Thursday, 16 May 2013

OnScreen vs Paper Book Reading for Kids

A study by the National Literacy Trust in the UK is getting a lot of attention today.

Its headline is Children's on-screen reading overtakes reading in print and it reports the findings of research that compares children aged 8-16 who read traditional paper books with those who read on a tablet or other electronic device. 

The part of the report that has been picked up on is that children who only read on-screen are significantly less likely to be above average readers.

Hmm. The article does not give full details of the research so it's hard to be sure what it going on here.

Are they really suggesting that if my kids read the same books on a tablet versus on paper then they will be worse readers? I find this rather hard to accept. I'm currently looking for an eBook subscription service so my kids have access to more books.

My son has both the paper copy and the eBook version of the awesome Quest of the Gods: Attack of the Scorpion Riders. He has the eBook because he saw an advert for the book in one of his magazines (a paper one!) and was really enthusiastic to get it straight away. But then he wanted to take the book to school to show his friends and read when he had free time. Taking a tablet to school is not (yet) an option so that meant getting a paper copy.

Will his reading progress better if he reads the paper copy? My theory is that it isn't whether a child reads on a tablet or on paper that is the key point here.

The report says that 39% of children and young people read on an electronic device every day. But it also says that only 12% of children read eBooks. So much of that reading is not books but general online reading. Is that right? So we're talking about reading the titles of YouTube videos to watch, or the instructions for games to play. Did I understand that correctly?

Also, a child who is above average in reading is much more likely to pick up a paper book. Our house is full of reference books, activity books and story books. My older son doesn't go for long without picking up a paper book of some sort and reading it. This happens whether his current reading book is an eBook or a paper book.

Perhaps the kids who only read on screens aren't very keen readers and can only be persuaded to read on a screen? It seems highly unlikely to me that you would find a child who loves reading and yet doesn't regularly pick up a paper book.

Perhaps they don't have much access to paper books? Most households where reading is highly valued will currently have lots of books. We're making the transition to eBooks but still have plenty of paper book we haven't managed to part with. Most of our friends houses are the same. Those families are also likely to visit the library as a low cost source of reading matter (we've moved to Overdrive but a lot of people haven't.)

I don't think it's helpful to be suggesting that reading eBooks is bad for children's literacy. I certainly won't be discouraging my kids from reading on tablets or eReaders.

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