Research has found that e-books are a distracting form of reading for children and tend to have a negative effect on their learning and understanding on the book.
A review of 39 different studies has found that when reading the digital version of a given book, children are less likely to understand the context of the book. The study focused on children between the ages of 1 and 8. This decline in understanding is thought to arise from the additional technologies that digital books have when compared to physical books. An example of such technologies is games at the end of chapters. It is believed that the ability to play games, which are often not relevant to the story itself, diverts the child’s attention and as a consequence they are less likely to retain what they have just read.
The authors of the research stated that: “Given that the human information processing system has a limited capacity, distributing cognitive resources across the story narrative, handling the device, and children’s expectations concerning an electronic device may be the reason for the reported negative effects.”
On top of this, three of the studies analysed found that digital reading correlated with lower reading ability across primary and secondary school children.
Some children may respond positively and be encouraged to read more due to the games
However, the use of digital readers does have its advantages. For example, the function of having a built-in dictionary has been found to improve children’s language skills. This can be seen in the studies mentioned where children’s vocabulary increased by an average of 22% when they read digitally rather than on paper.
Thinking back to the games in between chapters, it is also not as black and white as it may seem. While on average, they tend to decrease the child’s attention to the book, this isn’t always the case. Some children may respond positively and be encouraged to read more due to the games. Also, if the games can be made relevant to the story, they could even help to enhance the understanding of the book’s content.
The argument of a distraction may also be applied to books with textured parts. Children are often engrossed in touching all the different parts and opening the flaps, more than they are engrossed in the actual words. So, are digital distractions such as games really much worse?
Some adults may also find that they have a better reading experience when they read physical books
Another aspect worth considering is the experience of reading with or to your child. This is particularly relevant to young children who may not be able to read properly yet. A developmental-behavioural paediatrician at the University of Michigan has said that “Print books elicit a higher quality parent-toddler reading experience compared with e-books”. Also, in some studies it has been shown that the interaction the toddler experiences with the parent has an impact on the child’s development. This suggests that reading physical books to your children may convey benefits to their development when compared to reading e-books.
This debate does not stop at only children. Some adults may also find that they have a better reading experience when they read physical books. It all just comes down to preference.
There is really no right or wrong answer when it comes to physical books vs e-books, as both come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately it is up to the parents to decide whether they want to get physical or digital books. In the current climate with bookshops and libraries closed, digital books are more easily accessible, and no one should be looked down on for allowing their children to read digital books. After all, reading digitally is bound to be better than not reading at all.