by Lani deGuia
I just had my third child 8 months ago and a recurring recommendation from other moms has been:
Don’t let him play with your iPhone.
This week, Common Sense Media released their report on Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013. The study was the second in a series analyzing the media environments and habits of children ages 0-8. The findings are summarized in this infographic.
One finding that resonated with me was on what kids are using mobile devices for in the past two years. Reading books through mobile devices went from 4% in 2011 to 30% in 2013. The first thought that came to my mind was the implication of picture book reading. My two older children, ages 12 and 8, did not know of mobile devices until a few years ago, and loved picture books growing up. We have stacks of them spilling out of our upstairs closet and in their bedrooms. How will my son be different?
I probably can argue the case both for and against our society completely switching from paper to digital reading. As an instructional technologist, I’m seeing a big push to go “paperless” in the classroom and using mobile devices for learning. Text in digital format for both schools and personal use can be less expensive, make reading convenient and accessible (what child has ever been able to carry their entire collection of books wherever they go?), and more readily accommodate special needs (vision, auditory, etc.). However, I am still an advocate for children getting to enjoy holding a book with pages in their hand. I believe there is psychological value in turning each page with their fingertips, opening a book open wide to see a full spread illustration, and even trying to peak towards the end to see how the story turns out. In addition, my paranoid self can’t help but think we are bound to hear about “mobile device” arthritis and dry eyes soon down the road.
So this has made me wonder about what other research is out there regarding the reading preferences of young children. Here is what I found:
Do electronic devices impede on children falling in love with reading? A study by the National Literacy Trust of 35,000 British children found that 52% of children say they would rather read on electronic devices with 32% preferring a hard copy. However, those who read daily only on-screen were half as likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily using both digital and paper format.
A generation gap exists for now, but what about the future? A survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center surveyed ~1,200 parents found parents prefer hard copy books when they read together with their preschool age children. Although results showed children preferred the electronic device over the hard copy, parents are active in limiting reading on these devices for traveling or when the child is left alone.
Could reading in digital formats start rewiring the brains of generations to come? Some of the best insights I came across was in this article from the Scientific American on The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper Versus Screens. It discusses how the brain interprets text in physical formats by creating mental mapping, similar to topography. This mental mapping is limited when reading in digital screen formats. In electronic devices, we don’t have cues for the text in relation to the whole text and navigation isn’t as intuitive.
I personally think we will probably adopt a hybrid of reading formats in my household. I will still buy my son picture books, let him chomp on and touch board books, and take him to the library setting him free to peruse the shelves of colorful book bindings. However, he’ll probably have books to read on our mobile devices as well.
So what is your opinion? How do you feel mobile devices impact children's reading?
Lani deGuia is an educator, blogger, and mother of three. She has over 13 years of educational experience as a teacher, instructional technologist, and curriculum developer in traditional and online classroom settings for both K-12 and adult learners. She has a strong passion for promoting lifelong learning and family values. She views the social media landscape as an alternative classroom and also works in social media management and strategy. You can find her thoughts on family, travel, and parenting on her personal blog Rose Tinted Traveler.
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