Studies Show That Traditional Books Are Still The Best Option For Children

Summer reading programs are in full swing at local bookstores and libraries. While your kids decide on their favorite authors, parents will need to decide between traditional books e-book options for their children. Pete the Cat in print or in app?

Dr. Tiffany Munzer, developmental behavioral pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital, is researching the impact of tablets and traditional books on young children.

The traditional book advantage

“There are so many advantages of traditional book reading and shared reading for children!” Dr. Munzer stated. “Studies have consistently shown that shared book reading over traditional print books builds social-emotional attachment with parents, teaches children print concepts (books turn left to right) and literacy skills, exposes children to rich vocabulary, and cultivates executive functioning skills (e.g. how children learn to pay attention, delay gratification, and control impulses). These are the building blocks of academic success.”

“Toddlers are in an amazing stage of development where they are developing executive functioning skills but their attentional capacity is still limited. They may therefore be more susceptible to and distracted by the “bells and whistles” of e-books,” Munzer warned. “They are also gaining independence in incredible ways, while developing pre-literacy skills, but are not quite able to read yet, which makes the shared reading experience with parents that much more important for them. Parents play a crucial role in shaping their language development.”

Controlled screen time

Limiting screen time for children is also important when choosing books over tablets, especially with very young children.

“Regarding screen media and children, recommendations are age-specific,” Dr. Munzer said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics media guidelines recommends avoiding screen media in children under eighteen months because young infants and toddlers are unable to transfer two-dimensional images to the three-dimensional world. After eighteen months of age, the recommendation is to choose high–quality programming, and most importantly, co-viewing and engaging with children while the device is in use.”

“The recommendations from the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines advise parents to interact with children as they would a print book, as certain features of electronic/digital books (distracting visual effects) may decrease the richness of parent language used to converse with a child during book reading and may decrease a child’s reading comprehension.”

The benefits of tablets

In certain situations, a tablet may be beneficial for some children. “Electronic books can be very helpful for children with a dyslexia diagnosis,” Munzer offered. “There are apps such as Learning Ally, which read audio books and highlight individual words as the audiobook is playing. This helps build vocabulary in a way that is more intuitive in a child with dyslexia.”

“Previous studies among preschoolers and kindergarteners have shown that certain features of electronic books, such as a dictionary, may be helpful for reading comprehension,” Munzer said. And for reluctant readers, electronic books may be more engaging. Other studies have shown that the “bells and whistles” of electronic books such as sound effects or animations may actually be too distracting from the story content (and impede a child’s reading comprehension).

Dr. Munzer feels that interaction during parent-child story time is still of crucial importance for young children.“Reach Out and Read, a national organization on literacy, has a great quote: ‘A love of reading starts in the arms of parents’,” Munzer added.

“Starting early (even with newborns), and reading often with children builds life-long habits and skills, even if it is only for five minutes per day.”

Tips for Encouraging Readers

Dr. Munzer has five suggestions to make story time the best time of the day.

Start early

Even if children are not yet talking, do not appear to be listening, or prefer chewing on the book cover, it is never too early to start!

Have fun

Try silly voices to make them (children) laugh.

Sing it!

Sing the words on the page, or act out the parts of the books together.

Add dialogue

Parents shouldn’t feel pressured to just stick to the words in the book. They can add dialogue, read only a couple of pages at a time, or even just look at pictures together and talk about them. It should be fun for both parents and children.

Parents know best

Parents know their children best, so they should feel empowered to adjust the reading experience to cater to their children’s interests and personalities. For instance, they could choose topics their children enjoy reading about (even if it is Sports Illustrated Kids).

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