Reading to Your Toddler? Print Books Are Better Than Digital Ones

So while earlier research had suggested that the enhancements were problematic for young children, the results of this study suggested that even a nonenhanced story on the tablet screen seemed less likely to generate that parent-child dialogue. “The tablet itself made it harder for parents and children to engage in the rich back-and-forth turn-taking that was happening in print books,” Dr. Munzer said.

The researchers can only speculate about why; it may be because of the patterns we are all accustomed to in using our devices. Perhaps “the tablet is designed to be more of a personal device, perhaps parents and children use it independently at home,” Dr. Munzer said. There were also some struggles over who got to control the tablet, and more “negative format-related comments,” like “Don’t touch that button.”

And a print book, with a young child, may be a better piece of technology, if the goal is dialogue and conversational turn-taking. “A print book is just so good at eliciting these interactions,” Dr. Munzer said. “You’re comparing a tablet with the gold standard.”

[Read more in our guide: How to Raise a Reader]

I was one of the co-authors of a commentary accompanying the study, which acknowledged the many potential benefits of electronic books for children, but argued for continuing to rely on print books for the very young, including in programs that encourage parent-child reading.

My colleague, Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at N.Y.U. School of Medicine, who was the lead author on the commentary, said that whatever the medium, “parents need to read together with their child, use what they’re reading, and expand on the text.” With younger children, she said, there’s evidence that they get distracted with e-books, and there’s a lot of technology being actively marketed to parents nowadays. “You don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to support your child’s development,” she said. “Engaging the child and talking to the child does a wonderful job of supporting early child development.”

Reach Out and Read has a partnership with Scholastic, which this week released the seventh edition of its Kids & Family Reading Report, a national survey of school-age children and parents. It found that though 58 percent of the kids surveyed said they love or like reading books for fun, there has been an incremental decrease in reading frequency among the children surveyed since 2010.

And as children reach the age when they are expected to have fully mastered reading, they seem to be reading less for fun. In what the report called a “decline by 9,” the percentage of kids who report reading books for fun five to seven days a week dropped to 35 percent of 9-year-olds from 57 percent of 8-year-olds.

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