Toddlers gain more from printed books than from e-books

When grown-ups are reading to toddlers, they have more meaningful conversations when the stories are in traditional printed books than when stories are in e-books, researchers found.

Results of the small experiment suggest story time with tablets may not be as good for kids’ development.

Pediatricians recommend against any screen time at all for children under age two. They warn that tablets, smartphones and digitally enhanced toys and games can get in the way of creative play and interactions with caregivers that are essential for social, emotional and cognitive growth.

But many parents who don’t sit kids down to watch cartoons or play video games may still use tablets to read e-books to young kids. Among other things, e-books can be more convenient than cramming lots of board books in a diaper bag. Many parents also believe reading apps and interactive e-books can make it easier for kids to learn their ABCs.

“We know shared book reading is such an amazing developmental activity to engage in with children – not only by exposing children to rich language and vocabulary, but also by providing opportunities for physical closeness and creating moments to bond,” said lead study author Dr. Tiffany Munzer of the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

“Parents and toddlers know how to engage over a book, but when adding a tablet into the mix, it deflects from some of the positive benefits of that shared reading experience,” Munzer said by email. “That isn’t to say there is no benefit to electronic book, just less than when you compare it with a print book.”

For the study, Munzer’s team videotaped 37 parent-child pairs during reading sessions done in a lab. Parents read similar stories in three different formats: traditional printed books, e-books without any bells and whistles, and “enhanced” e-books with extra features like sound effects or animation.

During each reading session, researchers observed how much interaction, conversation and collaboration happened between parents and kids.

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