A new issue for parents to stress over is the question of whether reading digital books with your toddler or preschooler is worse than reading traditional print books. Help on this complicated question comes from a new study involving 102 toddlers aged 17 to 26 months, whose parents were randomly assigned to read two commercially available electronic books or two print books with identical content with their toddler (this was achieved by printing out screenshots of the electronic books).
The books included familiar farm animals (duck, horse, sheep, cow) and also wild animals (koala, crocodile, zebra, and lion), some of which were new to the children). After reading, the children were asked to identify three of the familiar animals and three of the unfamiliar.
The electronic books included background music, animation and sound effects for each page as well as an automatic voiceover that read the text aloud to the child, but there were no actions or hotspots for extra features.
Compared to those who read the print versions, toddlers who read the electronic books:
- paid more attention
- made themselves more available for story time
- participated more
- commented more about the content.
While parents tended to point at the print book more often, there was no difference between the books in the amount they talked with their children about the story. However, parent–child pairs spent almost twice as much time reading the electronic books than the print books.
Overall, children did significantly better on the learning task when they had read the electronic book. However, analysis showed that the benefit was accounted for by two variables:
- availability for reading.
The researchers note, however, that this may not be true of all electronic books. Previous research has suggested that highly interactive electronic books may distract from learning.
Additionally, the simplicity of electronic books for toddlers may be much better. Books for preschoolers, on the other hand, are more narrative, requiring readers to integrate content across pages. In this circumstance, electronic books may be more distracting.