I’ve spent a lot of time watching my three- and five-year-old daughters explore, play and read on an iPad. While touch-screen devices are wonderful in many ways, they do a really lousy job in one particular area: deeply engaging kids in narrative. Interactivity is stopping children from falling in love with stories. This, I fear, will have long-term consequences, depriving children of one of the most important benefits of reading for pleasure, the essential inner work of imagination and empathy.
So why don’t tablets enhance the experience of reading? Most children will not fall in love with reading as quickly as they will get hooked on an interactive game. A touch-screen device makes it all too easy for a child to dismiss reading as boring or “flat” in comparison with the instant gratification of games and apps. There are simply too many distractions just a click away. Children are most likely to engage with stories in the right environment and context, and that means away from a screen.
Most apps for kids are crammed with interactive inanities, interactivity with no objective apart from getting kids to tap on the screen. This is especially aggravating in storybook apps. The stream of sound and movement signifying nothing does not allow the cognitive and emotional space required to deeply engage with a story in the way that an old-fashioned book does. When we’re engaged in a story, we’re actually feeling the story, imagining how the characters feel and how we would feel in the same situation. That experience is hindered when children are busy trying to figure out what happens next when you tap on the screen.
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