E-books, digital books, multimedia books – regardless of our choice to embrace it or reject it, we cannot ignore its apparent presence in our technology-driven lives. The number of children reading an e-book and the interest in these digital books continues to increase. There were one million digital readers sold in 2008 and this number rose to twelve million in 2010 (Carr, 2010). The number of children who read an e-book has almost doubled since 2010 (Good & Sinek, n.d.). The study also shows that more than half of the readers between the ages of 9 and 17 would read more if they had greater access to ebooks. Digital books and paper books both have their own advantages and disadvantages and each of these offers something unique to the reader. However, in terms of reading development, especially in young children, paper books fare much better to its alternative kindle.
Readers don’t absorb as much while reading an electronic book as they do when they read a traditional book (Flood, 2014). Flood (2014) writes about a study presented in Italy in which the paper book readers, scored much higher on logical narration, plot reconstruction, and empathy when compared to those who read on a kindle. The superficial comprehension may result from the increased mental drain that occurs while reading on a screen (Jabr, 2013). When it comes to empathy, Maryanne Wolf’s work (as cited in Adair & Barker, 2013) suggest that the experience with technology weakens our neural pathways and hinders the deep connections that help develop our sense of empathy.
A study by Parish-Morris, Mahajan, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, and Collins (2013) also found that when parents read to children from an e-book, children had lower reading comprehension when compared to children whose parents read to them from a paper book. The main reason for this was found to be due to the presence of many extra technical features in an e-book that take the attention and time away from dialogues the parent should be having with the child (Parish-Morris et al., 2013). Reading from a print book avoids “device focused talk” and helps indulge in much more content related discussion, which in turn helps develops vocabulary, verbalization and language (Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi & Erikson, 2012). Children who were read to from a paper book also showed better comprehension and significantly greater narrative details when compared to the electronic reading group (Chiong et al., 2012).
Many researchers attribute the differences in the reading comprehension to “the haptic and tactile feedback” from both of these modes of reading (Flood, 2014). Print books offer the readers a tactile sense of progress as they flip pages; the pages on the right decreases as one reads and this allows for the reader to have a continuous and a somewhat wholesome reading experience. The child’s physical interaction with a traditional book such as the texture, the size, the 3-dimensional aspect, the weight of the book, and the hand-eye coordination are indispensable for a growing child and has an implicit effect on the literacy development (Adair & Barker, 2013). When one watches a child staring at a screen with such intent and involvement, it is hard to believe that the learning that takes place is not as concrete. Kuhl states (as cited in Quenqua, 2014) brain scans and testing reveals that students’ learning on the screen was significantly much lower than students who learn through live interaction.
The evidence against using digital devices is still forming and is not as rock solid as the evidence we have for, say, watching too much TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2. This leads to the debate as to whether reading with children on a screen is considered screen time or reading time. The bedtime reading happens right before sleep and if this activity involves screen time, then it is harder for children to sleep (Foley et al., 2013). A study in New Zealand has shown that the more screen time the children have before sleep, the later their sleep onset (Foley et al., 2013). This study and another (Chang, Aeshbach, Duffy, & Zeisler, 2015) show that using e-readers will cause a delay in sleep (causing one to sleep less than required) and it also alters the characteristic of the sleep cycle itself. There are numerous studies showing the multiple harmful effects of inadequate sleep in both adults and children. Specifically to reading development, it has been shown that longer sleep results in better reading development in younger children (Beebe, 2011). Sleep also has a negative impact on reading comprehension as sleep deprivations affects memory, decoding ability and attention, all of which are integral to reading and comprehending text (Sauber, 2010).
Our children will not know a world in which these digital books did not exist. The technology will continue to advance and as Maryann Wolf (as cited in Adair & Barker, 2013) put it “We will have a generation of readers highly adept at handling multiple pieces of information streaming in at them every second, but they will lack the means- the very circuits in their brain-for deeper revelation” (p.90) No matter how our reading evolves, one thing is for certain; our brains are wired to learn through human interaction (Adair & Barker, 2013). Therefore, it is imperative that regardless of the type of book children read, it is the interaction they have with parents and/or teachers that will greatly enhance their reading. No amount of technology can abdicate the parent of their role in reading to and educating their child.
Adair, C., & Barker, T. (2013). The big disconnect: Protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age (p. 51). New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Beebe, D. (2011). Cognitive, Behavioral, and Functional Consequences of Inadequate Sleep in Children and Adolescents. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 649-665. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3100528/
Carr, N. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.
Chang, A., Aeshbach, D., Duffy, J., & Ziesler, C. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(4), 1232-1237. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.full
Chong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L., & Erikson, I. (2012, March 1). Print Books vs. E-books. Retrieved May 1, 2015, from http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/jgcc_ebooks_quickreport.pdf
Flood, A. (2014, August 14). Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds. The Guardian. Retrieved April 17, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/19/readers-absorb-less-kindles-paper-study-plot-ereader-digitisation
Foley, L., Maddison, R., Jiang, Y., Marsh, S., Olds, T., & Ridley, K. (2013). Presleep Activities and Time of Sleep Onset in Children. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/01/08/peds.2012-1651.full.pdf html
Good, K., & Sinek, S. (n.d.). Scholastic Media Room. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/press-release/new-study-kids-reading-digital-age-number-kids-reading-ebooks-has-nearly-doubled-2010
Jabr, F. (2013, April 11). The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. Scientific American. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/
Parish-Morris, J., Mahajan, N., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M. and Collins, M. F. (2013), Once Upon a Time: Parent–Child Dialogue and Storybook Reading in the Electronic Era. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7: 200–211. doi: 10.1111/mbe.12028
Quenqua, D. (2014, October 11). Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time? The New York TImes. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
Sauber, A. (2010). Sleep and its relationship with reading comprehension. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1269030966&disposition=inline