I grew up loving to read. The characters were my friends and I made frequent use of my library card. As an adult, I have accumulated about 2,000 books. My shelves are full. I love the cover art, the typography and the feeling of a book in my hand. At the same time, I love gadgets. I have both a Kindle and an iPad, and now I read almost all my books on one of my e-readers. But, what about my kids? Should I fill their bookshelves or load up their Kindle accounts? Many moms are facing this dilemma of traditional books vs ebooks, especially when it comes to their kids.
I am actually torn about which version my kids should read, and experts seem to be, too. Publisher Scholastic says that digital editions can help early readers identify printed words with animation and audio and interaction can be a good thing. Reading aids like instant dictionaries give instant feedback, and digital editions can be more engaging for kids that are reluctant to read. One teacher added that it can also shield kids from embarrassment when they are reading books at a lower reading level than their peers.
I will say from personal experience that my daughter, who does have some reading disabilities, has responded to reading on her iPad better. She needs glasses for reading and has trouble tracking words, so pages full of text are daunting for her. I enlarge the text on the e-reader so she can read it more easily, and there are fewer words on a page. She enjoys reading much more, now.
On the other hand, everyone agrees that print isn’t going anywhere. There is a reason that books, in their current form, have been around for centuries. In many ways, there is no substitute for a printed book – the feel of the pages when you turn them, the colors of the illustrations and cover art and just the heft of holding it. I think sitting on the couch with your kids and reading a book is still a better bonding experience than crowding around a screen. And, the electronic add-ons like audio and animation that are helpful in some situations, but can be distracting in others.
A recent study in the New York Times makes a distinction by age, saying that their data shows that e-books are less effective for younger readers due to all those bells and whistles, kids read less and their attention is fragmented, resulting in less reading comprehension. When the add-ons actually support the text (the sound of drinking when a character is sipping tea or laughter when the character tells a joke) the results were better.
The study’s authors point out that there is a huge difference in the quality of e-books available on the market and the best results come with quality e-texts. Once you choose these, the authors suggest minimizing use of the interactive features and showing kids how to best use them. Many parents feel that interactive books require less handholding, when the authors indicate that they require more. E-books are becoming more popular with kids. In fact, digital reading material for kids and teens was the fastest growing area in 2011, so hopefully that means that there will be more quality e-books to choose from moving forward.
So, not to be on the fence, but it looks like there is a case to be made for both e-books and print books. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. For me, my younger sons love reading print picture books. I’ll certainly be choosing their future e-books with care, but for now, we enjoy the pictures on the page and cuddling together on the couch. E-books with enlarged type sparked my daughter’s interest in reading despite her learning issues, but I think it also gave her the confidence to tackle some print chapter books, too, since she has been bringing them home from school lately and reading on her own. It’s great to see. E-books are really handy when you are traveling, just for the sheer number you can bring, I love the idea of having your library at your fingertips.
Reading is a big part of my life and I want it to be a big part of my children’s lives. I honestly love both mediums. I can see where people have difficulty deciding between the two, but I see room for both at our house.