There is no question, when pediatricians are practically prescribing story time for parents and their young children, it is clear that literacy is tied to early exposure.  This is believed to be true, so much so, that even expecting mothers are encouraged to read to their child in utero.  The American Academy of Pediatrics explains what makes story time so critical for young children.

“Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.” The American Academy of Pediatrics

In something as innocent as story time, an infant learns valuable literacy skills, starting with book handling competency.  They learn how to hold a book right side up, and to turn a page from right to left.  All of which, are the simplest of feats accomplished through story time.  The truly remarkable learning that takes place when a child is read to occurs in the brain development.

“It is amazing what is going on in young brains when parents read, talk, and sing to their children.  Connections are made and strengthened that teach them more words.  They learn that pictures and words in books have meaning.  They learn to love books and the special time they spend with those that they love the most.  This makes them feel loved, safe and secure.  They feel good about themselves and good about their relationship with their parents and caregivers, the people they love the most in the world.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics

The simple act of reading a story to a young child fosters their social emotional development, strengthens their literacy skills, and sparks an interest in life-long learning.  So, if a print book can do so much to promote children’s brain development, surely the technology exists to enhance story time and improve the results.  Unfortunately, that technology does exist, in the form of children’s e-books.  However, e-books for young children have the potential to do more harm than good.

While books are an integral part of story time, they are only a vehicle for learning.  Parents and caregivers animate their voice while reading, and provide exaggerated facial expressions.  Children point to the pictures, as their parent labels the object of interest.  Reading is a time for children to snuggle-up close and feel secure.  All of this creates the experience of story time, and this is where learning takes place.  So to distill the experience into a mere push of a button on an e-reading device, begs the question, are children’s e-books broken?

During an age when children’s books are downloaded, too much may be lost in translation, when it comes to story time.  In his article, Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time? Douglas Quenqua clarifies, “Parents who use conventional books were more likely to engage in what education researchers call ‘dialogic reading,’ the sort of back-and-forth discussion of the story and its relation to the child’s life that research has shown are key to a child’s linguistic development.” (Quenqua, 2014)  However, there is nothing inherently preventing parents from doing the same when reading an e-book to their child.  Yet, in his article Quenqua references a study conducted in 2013, stating researchers found a correlation between lower reading comprehension in children 3 to 5 whose parents read to them from e-books, when compared to children whose parents read from a traditional print book. (Quenqua, 2014) So why are e-books seemingly broken?  E-books, similar to their print counterpart, are a vehicle for learning, so in their simplest form an e-book can be utilized the same way.  The brokenness of children’s e-books develops when the books are enhanced.

“Complicating matters is that fewer children’s e-books can strictly be described as books, say researchers.  As technology evolves, publishers are adding bells and whistles that encourage detours.” -Douglas Quenqua

With the additions of animations, sounds, and other technological interactions, stories stray further from their print roots and identify more closely with their television and app cousins.  When publishers “point to interactivity as an educational advantage” (Quenqua, 2014) they perpetuate the brokenness of children’s e-books, promoting artificial interaction, and removing e-books from beneficial story time and pushing them closer to the brink of screen time.

“When it comes to screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made a clear stance: The AAP advises eliminating screen time for children younger than 2 years completely, linking it to language learning delays.  It’s important to note that just like TVs, videos, and computers, tablets and cell phones have screens too.” The American Academy of Pediatrics

While The AAP has yet to straight out condemn e-books as screen time, they explain on Healthychildren.org “Numerous studies have shown that children learn better from real-life experiences than screen time.”  It is true that exposing children early and often to books is crucial for literacy, but the type of exposure must be purposeful.  Young children learn through face-to-face interactions, not through artificial interactions on a screen.  Children’s e-books touting interactive content, may just cheat children out of the rich real life experiences needed to support brain, literacy, and social emotional development.

Posted by: Shaylee Smith

Works Cited:

“Pediatric Professional Resource: Evidence Supporting Early Literacy and Early Learning.” PEDIATRIC PROFESSIONAL RESOURCE: EVIDENCE SUPPORTING (n.d.): n. pag. AAP.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

Quenqua, Douglas. “Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

Zachry, Anne H. “Tablets and Smartphones: Not for Babies.” HealthyChildren.org. The American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

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