The Great Book Debate – E-book or “Real Book” for Kids?
Why are Real Books better for Children?
Reading is reading no matter what, right? Physical books, audiobooks, digital books on tablets, or e-readers? The most important thing is that kids read as often as possible, no matter how right?
Yes and no.
I’d say that, yes, any reading is better than no reading at all. Reading helps children develop empathy, critical thinking, language skills, and more. The benefits are endless, which is why parents are encouraged to read with their children from day one, literally.
But when it comes to young children, there are some clear benefits to reading physical books rather than digital books. Lots of studies have been done on the topic, like this one published in Scientific American, and most seem to agree that digital reading has its challenges.
Let’s look at some of the most important reasons to read real, tangible books with your kids.
Better Depth of Understanding – Children grasp more from Real Books
Think about the last time you read a news article on your phone, tablet, or computer. Chances are, you read the title and headings, skimmed most of the content, and perhaps zeroed in on a few important paragraphs. This is pretty typical behavior for readers of digital content.
Our reading and understanding of digital material is often more shallow than when we read something we can physically hold in our hands.
It’s the same with children. When children hold a book and turn the pages, they tend to linger longer on each page, looking at and pointing to pictures, running their fingers over the words, and absorbing the story. With digital books, there often seems to be a rush to click or swipe through to the next screen.
Anecdotally, preschool and kindergarten teachers have observed that young children aren’t as able to recall information or answer questions about the content of the story.
Kids can keep the Attention Span for longer
Related to the depth of understanding, physical books hold kids’ attention much longer than digital books. There could be many reasons for this, but much of it is due to the wide variety of distractions that e-readers and tablets offer.
Digital books are often filled with extra features like animations, videos, games, or buttons to press for more information. On the one hand, this can be helpful. Emerging readers, for example, may be able to choose an unknown word and see its definition or even hear it pronounced for them. In a classroom setting, this can definitely help kids improve their vocabulary.
On the other hand, all those chances to click and learn more, see more or hear more can turn into a whole lot of distractions for children. Toddlers and young kids are often eager to touch the screen and scroll forward before they’ve really processed what’s happening in the story.
A study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, confirmed that toddlers were more engaged and focused on physical books. They were less likely to speed ahead or skip important details, and the amount of time spent with the book was greater than with the digital version.
A Worthwhile Sensory Experience
You really can’t discount the experience of holding a book in your hands. With a real, physical book, you can feel the weight of it, turn the pages, peek ahead, and open and shut it as many times as you’d like.
You can physically see the length of the book — how much is left and how much you’ve read so far. Think about that in terms of a child’s experience, especially a new or reluctant reader. The self-esteem and confidence gained from reading each page — seeing how far you’ve come, and getting to the end is huge!
I know for myself and a lot of other adults, it’s satisfying to place that bookmark or dogear the pages and see a physical indication of how much has already been read. Sure, most e-readers will give you a percentage of how much you’ve read, but that number doesn’t mean much to a child.
Real Books Better for Bedtime Read-Alouds
Most parents tend to read books before tugging their kids into bed. The kids are tired and bedtime reading is part of the winding down process after a long day (and let’s be honest, we parents, are looking forward to some no-kids time before collapsing ourselves). During this cozy time, most parents are apprehensive to use devices due to “blue light”, which e-books on digital devices irradiate.
According to a National Eye Institute-funded study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults’ from digital device screens. Additionally, “blue light” has been proven to disrupt sleep, as it alters the body’s circadian rhythm (our natural sleep and wake cycle). “Blue light” suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps our brain and body go to sleep. In other words, e-books have the exact opposite effect on kids, parents hope bedtime reading will achieve.
The Physical Bonding of Storytime – Cuddle Time!
Another very important advantage of reading physical books is the opportunity for bonding time with parents or other caregivers.
When we cuddle up on the couch with a book, when our child turns the pages for us and points to funny animals on a page, we’re creating lasting memories and important bonds. Not to mention, these positive experiences with reading are vital to a child’s brain development. Language skills, cognitive ability, imagination, problem-solving… this list could go on and on!
While you can replicate some of this by reading together on a tablet or other device, the sharing of a real, tangible book together can’t be beaten.
Ebooks Do Have Their Place
These days, digital reading seems more and more unavoidable. As schools turn to virtual distance learning and libraries expand their digital content, digital books are definitely here to stay. And that’s okay! Digital reading has its place too.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach here! As I said at the start, reading something is far better than reading nothing at all. There’s a place for digital books with our kids — just try and avoid an overreliance on them. Digital resources are especially great for researching topics, differentiating reading instruction in the classroom, and supplementing learning with additional activities. They’re also undeniably convenient when you’re traveling! A tablet loaded with 20 picture books is much easier to pack.
A healthy mix of both real books and digital books is great — especially as children get older.
The Magic of Holding a Book
Even if we can’t exactly put our finger on it, most of us adults recognize: There’s just something different about holding a book in our hands.
I believe this is even truer for our children. So stock that bookshelf with loads of books for your kiddos, and snuggle up for some daily storytime. You’ll never regret the time spent turning pages together!
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