We all have a tablet, I-phone, I-pad, something we carry or use to get things done and often use to entertain our kids, or even read a book ourselves.
Tablets have their uses as they are convenient to carry as opposed to multiple heavy books, they give you access to almost any title or genre of literature you are interested in, and they offer a multi-media approach to reading which often engages young learners and keeps them interested for long periods of time.
However, tablets are limited. If you don't have access to power, you don't have access to the book.
Most books that children read on a tablet are so focused on keeping the child amused that the child often focuses on trying to find and press on all the various bells and whistles that may be inserted into the story that they lose the narrative. Children reading on an electronic device often lose the ability to become immersed in the story and that wonder and imagination that is left up to the reader when turning the pages of a traditional book.
Children have so much external stimulus thrown at them daily, that they are starting to lose the excitement that a traditional book provides.
One of my daughter's favorite things to do is go into the children's department of our library and stroll up and down the aisles. The shelves are full of colorful covers and amazing illustrations making it easy for her to see all the endless choices in front of her. Tablets don't provide a child with the chance to feel the pages, see the artwork as it was intended by the illustrator, or look at the spine to see how much of a commitment this book may be.
There is something pure and special about sitting down with a child, at bedtime or in a classroom and reading a book together, turning the pages slowly, holding it out to showcase the illustrations and being fully immersed in the story, without the interruption of an email popping up on the screen or a text coming through.
When a parent or teacher picks up a book or even a child picks up a book they know that their attention is going to be focused on those words, those illustrations, and the world that the author has created for them, without the distraction of technology.
When a tablet is used to read to a child parents may often spend more time telling the child what not to touch on the screen as they are reading, or how carefully to hold onto the delicate tablet, rather than letting the child feel the book in their hands, and use their fingers to guide them through the verses.
As a parent and educator I want to use books as a means to open up conversation rather than simply keep a child busy while I go on to do something else. Books that are read on a tablet are often feeding the words to a child, incorporating gaming components into the book and often become more of a means of distraction that is done alone, rather than as a parent/child bonding or classroom led learning activity.
Research has been done that shows that children that read books on tablets alone are less fluent in reading than children who read traditional books or a combination of both.
There was also a study done in 2013 by Temple University that discovered that parents who read traditional books with their children, as opposed to parents who read e-books had more engagement with their children and more of what they call "Dialogic Reading." Which is essentially the type of "Back and Forth" discussion that we want our children to participate in when reading. We want them to be engaged in the story and think about the themes and ideas that the author is sharing, rather than just waiting for the next press in the hopes of seeing a bird fly out of their nest or hear the duck quack.
That said, there is a place for the tablet or I-pad in our child's exposure to books and literature.
Having books available on a tablet when it would be impractical to bring tens of books on vacation or to a restaurant is absolutely a value and tool that we can use to keep our kids engaged and even challenged when there is a gaming component to the book being read online.
How then do we create this joy and love for the traditional book, when they don't have the bells and whistles?
Children become excited about books when they are given the opportunity to choose them from a book shelf at home, a basket full of books in their room, aisles in the library or from a beautiful display at the local bookstore. When children have choice and control, not matter what it might be, they tend to take more of an interest. When a child chooses a book from an array of choices, when they can leaf through the pages, and compare them to other books, they become invested and excited about reading.
Children also love ritual. If the teacher in class always chooses a story to read to the class after lunch, and engages the class in questions giving them a chance to share their thoughts and ideas as it relates to the story, they begin to long for that time, expect it and ask for it.
Children also love time that they feel is theirs alone with someone they love. A parent, older sibling or grandparent who sits down with a child and looks at or reads a book with that child creates moments, bonds and memories around those stories.
As an educator and parent, one of the best things I find at my home or school library is a worn out book. I know it's worn because it has been pulled off the shelf a thousand times, by a child who calls it their favorite.
Children will often value, the things that they see the people they love value. If a favorite teacher, friend, parent, grandparent makes time to read a traditional book with a child rather than reaching for the I-pad, that child will inherently build a love for the classic book.
And finally it's that sense of accomplishment. Each night after we read just a little bit more, and move that bookmark another chapter or two, we know that we are making our way through the story, and getting closer to the end, the frog who turns into a prince, the ship that finally makes it to fantasy land, or just to the last page, which means that tomorrow, we can go back to that big bin of books and choose again.
Let me know your thoughts about reading to your children.