eBooks for Kids: Hurtful or Helpful for Young Readers?
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It's bedtime, and your 4-year-old is tucked in and ready for her nightly story. Paperbacks are scattered around the room, and among them an eReader loaded with her favorite fairy tales. Do you reach for the worn-out copy of The Wizard of Oz from the bookshelf, or head into the interactive world of Dorothy and friends instead?
Parents today face a host of new choices at story time. They're not only choosing what to read, but how to read it. Unfamiliar territory with smart phones and electronic tablets have parents wondering—do eBooks for kids hurt or help young readers?
For parents of very young children, the "total experience" of reading includes lap-time, closeness and parental involvement. Some people are afraid that this experience will be lost with eBooks. The other big fear is that their child won't learn to read properly if exposed to eBooks. When something is unfamiliar, we are naturally wary—but are fears about e-books realistic?
Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that while kids are more plugged-in than ever before, reading has not lost ground to media. In fact, print book reading has actually increased over the past 10 years, despite the explosion of electronic readers on the market. And according to a study by Cambridge University, literacy rates among children have actually increased since the pre-computer age.
The march of technological progress isn't going to stop—eReaders are here to stay. So how do you know what's best for your young reader? Here are some tips:
- Educate Yourself: Know the difference between an eBook and an app. Electronic reading apps can help literacy development, but are more like games than books. A digital Alice in Wonderland is a true electronic representation of the book, with no bells and whistles, such as noises or moving images. The Alice app, on the other hand, has more interactive features—a child can touch the screen and make things move or change. The eBook version boasts a beautiful illustration of Alice drinking the magic potion, but with the app, you can touch Alice and make her grow.
- Reading Reinforcement: Choose reading apps wisely. If your child loves tales about royal beauties, read her favorites in print or on an eReader, and supplement the text with an app like Princess Presto's Wands Up Writing or The Princess and the Frog read-along. Incorporating princess learning materials will help get your kid excited for storytime, and motivate her to explore other educational tools.
- Keep it in the Family: : Keep reading activities family-centered. The same Kaiser foundation study cited above found that families that were active in guiding their children in reading activities and media use had happier children. You don't have to just give in to a tsunami of technology. You, as a parent, can still decide how much print and how much media to allow into story time. Reading eBooks doesn't have to mean sacrificing lap-time.
Experiment on your own and pick the books and apps that are right for your child. Here's a breakdown of the various types of reading apps and eBooks for kids available:
- Simple eBooks: The iTunes app store has many familiar classics like Cat in the Hat and Jack in the Beanstalk available for e-readers. With these eBooks you can simply turn each page with your child and read it like a print book. Print-centered retailers like Barnes and Noble have both ebooks and apps for children, with an emphasis on traditional fare like fairy tales and classics. Amazon also has a large selection of children's material for easy download.
- Touch-activated Apps: Reading apps like Sound Touch let your reader interact with the image onscreen, whether that's finding out what a word means or tapping the picture to make it come to life. Z is for Zebra, and similar alphabet apps, exercise phonics skills—just touch a letter on the screen to hear what it is.
- Interactive Stories: Some digital apps allow your little learner to take the story into her own hands. The Puss in Boots app lets her pick different adventures for the feisty feline, while the Little Engine that Could app, created after the beloved childhood tale, helps your kid design a one-of-a-kind engine.
Create a balance between high-impact apps and books—whether the books are print or electronic—to avoid over-stimulating your child. Kristen McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children says, "It's important to balance high-information-intensity technologies with other kinds of (unplugged) experiences to create a balanced child with the ability to moderate their own attention."
Above all, make sure to snuggle up with a story often—together or alone, in whatever format. The single biggest factor in raising a successful reader is to lead by example, so soak in as much of the written word as you can each day. Not only may you discover new page-turning material, you'll be showing your kids that reading, either on a screen or on a page, can be as enjoyable as it is educational.
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