Do ebooks help or hurt children’s literacy?

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Grandmother with child on iPad

Print books may be under siege from the rise of e-books, but they have a tenacious hold on a particular group: children and toddlers. Their parents are insisting this next generation of readers spend their early years with old-fashioned books. This is the case even with parents who themselves are die-hard downloaders of books onto Kindles, iPads, laptops and phones. They freely acknowledge their digital double standard, saying they want their children to be surrounded by print books, to experience turning physical pages as they learn about shapes, colors and animals.

So the New York Times reports in an article today on resistance to ebooks for young children. It’s an interesting challenge for ebook developers, particularly since children’s ebooks have been the standard-bearers for the interactive and graphical possibilities of tablet-native titles. In part because storybooks are shorter than adult titles, they’ve demonstrated far more creativity than the initial generation of adult ebooks, featuring everything from simulated pop-ups to reading aloud to touch-triggered animations.

But it’s a great example of how an app’s greatest strength will typically also be its greatest liability. Precisely because children’s ebooks have been so successful in blurring the line between book and app, and between narrative and game, they can lose the perceived purity of the reading experience. Our emphasis on reading as the cornerstone of education and learning means that parents resist anything that appears to distract from or dilute that reading experience — particularly if it feels like that new paradigm of evil, Video Games.

We owe it to our kids to rethink this idea that books and readings are not only distinct from, but antithetical to, gaming. Gaming is the environment in which our kids will spend a good portion of their school years, and which may also define much of their adult work lives as software developers become more successful at integrating game mechanics into other on- and offline activities.  We can best serve our kids if we not only embrace gaming as part of literacy, but also find ways to integrate it with the traditional literacy of reading.

2 Comments on this site

  1. Angela Crocker

    As a parent, I think it’s paramount that my son have broad-spectrum literacy – both digital and paper.  I think it’s my responsibilty to make paper books available and he has an extensive library right next to his bed. I’m also responsible for teaching him how to navigate digital works – the technical how-tos, the costs of “in-book purchases” and the how to read the words on the screen.  I see no need to fear something is lost if stories are delivered in bytes instead of pages. We can still cuddle in bed and talk about a story whether it’s on the iPad or a print book – and we do just that every single day.

  2. executive gifts

    Hi Alexandra! I think ebooks will be changing the way children from 3rd world countries learn. I know that piracy is bad but thru piracy the students of poor countries will learn thru pirated ebooks. When they grow up these children will then be working with 1st world countries. It is just like the 1st world countries trained them with the helpl of pirated ebooks.  

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