They’re readily available, colorful, convenient, and go anywhere mobile devices go. But are ebooks effective reading tools when it comes to childhood literacy? Especially when compared to traditional books? It depends. If you leave your child alone with the e-book, or have it read to them through audio narration, it probably won’t be as effective. But there are ways to make them work.
Read Ebooks with Your Kid
“We found that children understood the story best when their parent read to them – they were able to recall more details from the story and answer more questions about the plot,” Rebecca Dore, a Senior Research Associate at Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy at The Ohio State University, tells Parentology.
Dore continues, “This suggests that children are going to benefit the most from this type of technology when parents use it with them. However, we also found that children did seem to understand some of the story using the audio narration: children in that group recalled more details than children who just looked at the pictures. “
Other researchers agree. Brenna Hassinger-Das, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pace University, stated that her findings were similar in trend.
“To some degree, parent speech was influenced by platform; although there was no clear pattern that emerged. Yet, the most interesting finding was that a critical element of book reading might be the type of parent speech used, regardless of platform,” Hassinger-Das wrote in an article for Bold.
Going further, Hassinger-Das said, “There was a (thus far non-significant) trend for children whose parents used the most distancing talk to demonstrate the most story content knowledge, regardless of condition or age. Distancing talk—language that relates the story to children’s own lives—has been shown to help children connect with stories and make inferences.”
In other words, the parent is best equipped to connect the ebook’s words with the context of their child’s life.
Are Ebooks Effective? Yes, if You Filter Out the Noise
While multimedia content can be helpful in engaging children, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Those extra features are called hotspots: music everywhere, buttons attached to everything, and games that pop up whenever and wherever in the text. And some of those might be an impediment to learning.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Educational Research indicates positive ebook impact depends on the features they employ.
The study’s authors found that, “When investigating the different characteristics of technology-enhanced stories, multimedia features like animated pictures, music, and sound effects were found beneficial. In contrast, interactive elements like hotspots, games, and dictionaries were found to be distracting. Especially for children disadvantaged because of less stimulating family environments, multimedia features were helpful and interactive features were detrimental.”
Watch Out for Too Much “Read to Me”
One interesting takeaway? Beware of the “read to me” feature.
In a 2016 article “Getting Smarter About Ebooks for Children” from the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC), some teachers noticed a disturbing trend. “…elementary school teachers are starting to watch for students in their classrooms who are always choosing Read to Me and never choosing I’ll Read It Myself. At some point, teachers say, they want children to be able to make that switch.”
In addition, sometimes the audible phonetics feature of audiobooks wasn’t quite accurate—pronouncing the silent “e” in the word “cake,” for instance. Not so great for superlative reading skills.
Still, a Book Is a Book
While studies show that kids are currently preferring paper books over e-books, the digital versions shouldn’t be discounted. Because, although there are some caveats, e-books are still considered a valuable learning tool.
The venerable American Library Association (ALA) touts e-books as basically having all the traits necessary for literacy education. Its list includes immersion, demonstration, engagement, expectations, responsibility, approximation, employment, and response.
For instance, e-books:
- Can employ all eight conditions for learning
- Have demonstrations with animation
- Include vocabulary selection, puzzles, recall questions
- Allow learners to try different responses and their thinking is validated
- Provide immediate feedback
- Give learners a choice and take responsibility
Basically, the ALA is supporting books and literacy in all its forms. Printed books and ebooks can peacefully coexist.
The most important aspect? Read books in any form with your child for the best results.
“Children seemed to understand story content equally well from different types of e-books and from a traditional paper book after reading with a parent,” Dore says. “However, the findings showed that the element that mattered most for children’s comprehension was when parents related to the story to their child’s lives.”
Are Ebooks Effective — Sources
Bold (Blog On Learning & Development) article
American Library Association
The National Association for the Education of Young Children #1
The National Association for the Education of Young Children #2
Journal of Educational Research