E-Reading and Children

By Jamie W. Thu, October 16, 2014

Last weekend the New York Times ran a piece called "Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?". It's a good read. For me, as a parent and a librarian who helps manage our ebook, database, and digital audio book collections, it raised a number of questions. 

I am proud of the collection of ebooks and audiobooks the Free Library offers for both children and adults. I think ebooks are a wonderful library service; they draw people to us, and allow us to meet the changing needs of readers. I have also extolled the virtues of Tumblebooks, our collection of animated talking picture books, on this blog before. At the same time, I'm not shy about telling people I've never actually read an ebook for pleasure and that my children don't use digital reading resources like Tumblebooks very often either. 

Why not? For me it's simple: I sit in front of a screen all day at work.The last thing I want to do at night, on weekends, or, god forbid, on vacation, is look at yet another screen. Anyway, I'm a library lifer. The look-for-a book/borrow-a-book/return-a-book/look-for-another-book rhythm of the library has been part of my routine for so long that digital reading just doesn't make a lot of sense for me. Besides, maybe taking myself out of the competition helps keeps the wait times for our Overdrive collection down. 

As for my kids, well, here things get more complicated. I am aware of the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents read aloud to their children everyday from birth -- this has been one of the most consistent pleasures of my parenting life, so thanks to the AAP for that -- as well as their recommendation that children under 2 not use screen media at all (for older children the recommendation is for no more than 2 hours a day), and I think we've done that too (my kids are over 2 now and while I don't remember handing them the iPad on their 2nd birthday or setting a timer when the older one watches TV, this is pretty much what we've done). We have also experimented with e-reading throughout their lives though.

Our eight-year-old is a voracious reader -- we've recently had to threaten a no-reading-at-the-breakfast-table rule to compliment the no-reading-at-the-dinner-table rule we put in place last year -- and she's free to checkout ebooks from the library on the iPad. While she's fallen hard for digital audio books, ebooks don't seem as appealing to her. I've asked her why, but she's eight; all I get is a shrug and a noncommittal, 'I like regular books.' At least, that's what she says when I can get her nose out of a book long enough for her to talk to me at all. 

Our four-year-old loves to play with the iPad. The theme music from his Dusty Crophopper app has been playing in my head for weeks, but he's been slow to warm to e-reading too. 

I'm not sure why this is the case, but I have a theory. When the younger one wants to read a book, he asks for it by name and takes it from the shelf. When he wants to play with the iPad, whether it's to look at book-based apps or play games, he just asks for the iPad. To me, that's the key. In my son's mind, the iPad is a toy and a book is a book. This isn't something we've tried to teach him, but I think that when we're reading together on the iPad, he feels that we're actually 'playing on the iPad.' On the other hand, when we're reading a traditional book together, we're reading a book. I don't say that to disparage iPads or smartphones or tablets at all, certainly they're wonderful devices, but for reasons I don't entirely understand, this is how my children see them.  

I'm curious to hear from other other parents, what are your experiences with e-reading? Does it work for your family? Do your kids see e-reading as "real" reading or do they focus on the device? Would you like to see the Free Library focus more on digital resources for kids or put more of our resources into print books and physical resources for children in our neighborhood libraries?  

The author and his son reading at home
The author and his son reading at home

Comments

A timely topic indeed! We have limits on screen time with our son, and most of the time we use the iPad as a reward where he can play a game or watch cartoons on YouTube. Like your son, he doesn't seem to be into reading on the iPad or the Kindle Fire right now. He still prefers to have us read him actual books and now that he is learning to read himself, he loves going to the library to pick out his own books to take home.
Peter - South Philly Fri, October 17, 2014
My nineteen year old daughter told me something similar a few weeks ago: the computer is for work and socializing, books (and knitting!) are for relaxing. When she wants to concentrate on the story, she wants paper. I asked her if she wanted an e reader for her birthday and she said "No thank you, I'd rather have a B & N gift card."
Rebekah Ray - Center City Wed, October 22, 2014
I have a ten year old son. At times a reluctant reader, when he recently found a series of books he enjoyed and the next one wasn't available in hard copy, I eagerly encouraged him to read the available e-book version. Since he enjoys the ipad for play, I hoped he would be pick another title but as others have said he prefers the physical book.
Andrea - Northeast Philadelphia Thu, October 23, 2014

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