Douglas Quenqua asks if ‘ e-reading to your toddler story time, or simply screen time?’
At a time when reading increasingly means swiping pages on a device, and app stores are bursting with reading programs and learning games aimed at infants and preschoolers, which bit of guidance should parents heed? The answer, researchers say, is not yet entirely clear. “We know how children learn to read,” said Kyle Snow, the applied research director at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “But we don’t know how that process will be affected by digital technology.” Part of the problem is the newness of the devices. Tablets and e-readers have not been in widespread use long enough for the sorts of extended studies that will reveal their effects on learning.
“There’s a lot of interaction when you’re reading a book with your child,” High said. “You’re turning pages, pointing at pictures, talking about the story. Those things are lost somewhat when you’re using an e-book.”
In a 2013 study, researchers found that children aged three to five years whose parents read to them from an electronic book had lower reading comprehension than children whose parents used traditional books. Part of the reason, they said, was that parents and children using an electronic device spent more time focusing on the device itself than on the story (a conclusion shared by at least two other studies).
“What we’re really after in reading to our children is behaviour that sparks a conversation,” said Dr Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple and co-author of the 2013 study. “But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”
Of course, e-book publishers and app developers point to interactivity as an educational advantage, not a distraction.
A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin in 2013 found that two-year-olds learned words faster when using an interactive app as opposed to one that required no action. But when it comes to learning language, researchers say, no piece of technology can substitute for a live instructor – even if the child appears to be paying close attention.
Even if screen time is here to stay as a part of American childhood, good old-fashioned books seem unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Parents note that there is an emotional component to paper-and-ink storybooks that, so far, does not seem to extend to their electronic counterparts, however engaging.