How generational transition plays out was never more evident to me than when I observed my father lick his finger to flip the "page" of the iPad, and my little granddaughter absentmindedly swipe the page of her book, the way she would on the screen. On one of my trips to a school, scheduled for accreditation, the chair of the team and I got into a discussion about whether digital books were better for kids or print in hand. My argument leaned towards the charm of holding a book in one's hands, while he thought that the future would increasingly be driven by technology, so e-books were here to stay. Of course there is no right or wrong in the argument. They are points of view which can both be agreed upon.
Reading is a cerebral activity that stimulates the brain to exercise the abstract. Reading on-screen or in print can both achieve this. So where is the problem? The fact that children are sensorial learners is a no-brainer. They need tactile experiences to build their information database. The screen is at best a visual experience. What happens when a child reads from a book instead of reading online?
Where our brain is concerned “text is the tangible part of the physical world we inhabit.” ( Scientific American). Studies find that print text maintains greater focus than screen focus. Recalling information in print is easier, as it can be mapped with greater ease. Locating material on a pdf is oftentimes a cumbersome, tedious exercise.
Have you seen children who cannot even read, flick through pages to create their own text? There is complete animation to be seen. Even if they have yet to learn to speak, they create text-like sounds to express what they see. Can you imagine them doing that on screen? Repetition is a means through which children establish concepts. One does find them returning repeatedly to a book that holds their attention. Sort of difficult to do that with an online book, wouldn't you say?
With the world wide web we now have far more access to information than we can afford to spend time on. What we seek is instantly available upon the click of a finger. Studies have concluded that people read online material differently than print. Online reading does not hold the attention that print does. As a result people will skim through online content but do read print, beginning to end.
A distinguished professor and advocate for children's literacy at UCLA, Maryanne Wolfe explains “ the sheer volume of online information and communication invite the fast and shallow read. The result is, more and more young people not reading other than what is required, and often not even that: “ tl;dr”- too long; didn’t read”
While we can all differ in our opinions and might have good reasons to opt for one choice or the other, we do control the kind of experiences we give our children when they are building their cerebral network. A few things I would consider while buying a book for the child:
1. Age appropriateness- reading level
2. Quality of content- flip through pages to get an idea- is it engaging, rich vocabulary
3. Quality of language used- is the language rich and evocative
4. Who is the author- what are his/her credentials
5. Quality of illustrations and presentation.
I asked my 6 year old grandson for his opinion about the print/online experience with reading and he summed up his thoughts in this way:
That then is straight from the heart of a child.