Paper Books vs. E-books – What’s Best for Kids?

My husband brought home an iPad last week.  My daughter beamed with excitement.  I wasn’t nearly as excited.  Much to my surprise she not only knew what it was, but she also knew what to do with it.  In fact she knew way more about what to do with it than me!
I admit I have never been one to embrace technology (but I get it honestly, my mom refused to give up her rotary dial phone until the mid ‘90s!).  In fact, I typically avoid it until absolutely necessary.  My husband is the opposite.  He loves any new gadget he can get his hands on.  I often refer to his newest piece of technology as the “other woman” b/c he prefers to spend time exploring and discovering how to use it rather than talking to me!
Because of my reluctance to use technology I have not exposed my children to much of it.  It wasn’t until my daughter attended preschool at the age of 3 ½ that she learned to use a mouse and navigate independently on the computer.  Sure, she knew what the computer was and occasionally her dad and her would take silly pictures on “Photo Booth”, but beyond that she didn’t know much about the fun a computer had in store for her.
Part of my reluctance to introduce my children to technology too soon was that I feared they would enjoy being on kid friendly websites, or playing games on the Wii, and they would forget how to engage in creative, imaginative free play.  I had already witnessed how easily the television could get them under its spell, and I feared the internet and gaming systems would do the same.  I guess this is when I first became an advocate for PLAY.
Imagine my disappointment the other night at bedtime when my daughter exuberantly requested her dad read her her bedtime stories and not me.  Do you know why she wanted daddy?  Because daddy had the iPad (and he knew how to use it!).  But as I lay there listening to the beeps, dings and taps echoing down the hallway, I wondered if this bedtime iPad routine was such a good idea.  Sure, it’s not THAT bad, but bedtime stories in our house are a treasured nightly routine.  Knowing the importance of reading to your children, I have been a stickler that 3 books are read every night before bed to each child.  A routine my children have grown to love and expect.
However I didn’t give it much more thought than that and I quickly drifted off to sleep.  But the next morning I remembered an article in my recent parent magazine that cited this research study:  It was the proof behind my crazy protective instinct to preserve bedtime story time; the benefits of reading traditional books outweighs reading e-books.

So thank you Temple University for giving me some proof to back up my stubborn reluctance.  Although, I admit I recognize the importance of introducing our children to technology in this fast paced world we live in.   I certainly don’t want my kids to be behind on account of me.  So I’ll leave that up to my husband.  Right now my kids have a good balance of play, technology and structure in their lives.  I hope I can keep it that way!

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Electronic books dampen the kind of parent-child interaction related to early literacy
Parents and pre-school children have a more positive interaction when sharing a reading experience with a traditional book as opposed to an electronic book, or e-book, according to researchers at Temple University’s Infant Laboratory in Philadelphia and Erikson Institute in Chicago. This shared positive experience from traditional books characteristically promotes early literacy skills.
The researchers presented the findings of their study, “Electronic books: Boon or Bust for Interactive Reading?” on Nov. 3 as part of the Boston University Conference on Language Development.
The first-of-its-kind study was conducted by Julia Parish-Morris, a graduate student in developmental psychology at Temple University, and Molly F. Collins, assistant professor at Erikson Institute. Parish-Morris and Collins collaborated with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology and director of the Temple Infant Lab.
“It is very obvious from the media, and from toy stores and bookstores, that electronic learning products are becoming very, very popular,” said Parish-Morris. “Parents are really buying into the idea that electronic media is essential to their children’s development.”
Parish-Morris recruited 19 children ages 3-5, along with their parents, at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum; Collins recruited 14 at the Chicago Children’s Museum
Parish-Morris said the researchers were looking at four different questions: Do children prefer electronic or traditional books in the context of parent-child interaction; does the content of parental utterances differ between the types of books; is the context of what parents are saying content- or behavior-oriented; and do parents’ comments go beyond the book’s story?
In a quiet room, the parents and children sat in front of a table displaying 10 books (five electronic and five traditional) matched on length and similarity of characters/plot structure. They were instructed to do whatever they would normally do with books.
“Roughly one-third of the children chose e-books over traditional books, which surprised us a little bit,” said Parish-Morris. “But part of that might stem from the fact that, in general, parents and children don’t tend to read electronic books together.”
She said that the raw number of total utterances made by parents was roughly equal between the two types of books, but that the researchers saw a significant difference in the proportion of content- and behavior-oriented comments.
“I was struck by the stark difference between the content-related utterances in reading traditional versus e-books; I didn’t realize there would be a two-fold difference,” said Collins. “I think this happens because we’re more comfortable with traditional books and so we play a more active role in the reading process; but with e-books, we let the books lead.”
“It turned out that reading electronic books became a behaviorally oriented, slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story, relating it to the their child’s life, or even talking about the book’s pictures or text,” Parish-Morris said. “Parents were under the impression that when you are sitting down with a book, you are supposed to read it,” she added.
“But what was happening with the e-books is that reading was not even part of the process, probably because these books literally read the story to the child. So parents are not needed. The book makes commands and tells the child what to do; it encourages them to play games and reads to the child, so parents are essentially replaced by this battery-operated machine.”
In contrast, Parish-Morris noted that parents who read traditional books made more comments that related pictures or themes in the book to their children’s real lives in a way that might spur the children’s imagination, or their short- or long-term memory.
This is significant because children are more successful in school when they spend their pre-school years reading with their parents. “The parent-child interaction around books and shared book reading is incredibly important to emergent literacy skills,” she said. “In the later school years, kids enjoy school more, they enjoy learning more, and there are a whole host of outcomes that are related to this shared reading experience in the pre-school years.
“So parents who are talking about the content with their child while reading traditional books are encouraging early literacy, whereas parents and children reading electronic books together are having a severely truncated experience.”
“This research does suggest that parents should be aware of some of the limitations of e-book reading,” added Collins. “We shouldn’t use e-books to replace traditional books, and we shouldn’t expect them to do something that they don’t. They’re not substitutes for a human being.”
The researchers are using this study, which received some material support from Fisher-Price, as the basis for a larger study at the Temple University Infant Lab. The follow-up study features an expanded sample of children in a randomized design. Preliminary data confirm the findings of the current study.

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