Monday, 23 September 2013

Are eReaders a Good Idea for Kids?

Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers My son has been using an eReader or tablet a lot recently to read eBooks (we have a few devices he uses.) A lot of parents seem keen to keep their kids reading 'real books' rather than electronic ones for as long as possible. We're having a very positive experience with ebooks to the extent that I'm disappointed if a story book my son wants isn't available as an eBook!

My older son is nearly seven but he's a very good reader. We used paper books until he was reading longer chapter books. Partly because I didn't really think about using eBooks earlier and some of the books he enjoyed (like the Magic Tree House series) were cheaper to buy as a paper box set than digitally. We've been using an eReader for bedtime stories for a long time.

Image:  Kindle Paperwhite

I should say that he still has loads of information books in paper format about history, nature and other topics, and he has some gorgeous paper engineering pop up books that will not be replaced by digital books. Our house is packed with real books! But for novels the eReader is definitely winning.

I'll also mention that reading is something we often do together, taking turns to read a page each. Luckily my son has a similar taste in books to me and it's no chore to get to read or in some cases re-read the books that he chooses. It means that he can tackle the longer books and series that he is interested in. 

Benefits of eBooks

Redwall (Book 1, Redwall) Redwall (Book 1, Redwall)
@ Amazon
One of the big benefits for us of using an eReader is that we can adjust the font size so it is comfortable for my son. He finds the print too small in the kind of books he wants to read. Last year he brought home a book from the fabulous Redwall series by Brian Jacques from the school library, he really liked it but was put off by the huge book with tiny print.

We're currently reading the first Redwall book as an eBook (the first in the serious is very reasonably priced.) It's a very long book for my son to tackle even with me reading alternate pages. But we can adjust the font to the right size and it's not daunting as he just focuses on the part he's currently reading.

We can easily see the progress we've made as a percentage through the book. Unfortunately we don't get to see how far we are through a chapter in this particular book though this is usually possible with eBooks.

With books like Harry Potter it has been really useful to be able to see how far we are through a chapter or how long it's likely to take to read the next chapter so we can decide whether to finish or start a chapter before bed. Different eReaders and individual books have different features but you always get some information on progress through a book.

It's also really useful to be able to quickly look up an unknown word in a book. My son doesn't always do this as it can break the flow of reading, but sometimes he will stop to look up the meaning of a word. And I'll admit that I did this recently when we found a word I didn't know in the Redwall book (curtilage.)

It's also easy to find old books and get hold of new ones immediately. My son read about a book that he really wanted in a magazine and we were able to get hold of the sample immediately and then decide to buy it with his book allowance.

Another factor is that it's actually easier to hold the tablet or eReader than it is to hold a large paperback and keep it open at the right page.  And we always have devices with us when we're traveling so we never run out of things to read.

On some devices you have access to a read aloud feature which may be useful.

Cost of eBooks for Kids

One of the things you might be concerned about is the cost of keeping your child in eBooks. Electronic versions of books are often more expensive than paper books especially as you can't buy them used.

We've found the comparison to be fairly neutral. We are able to borrow books from our library via Overdrive and from Amazon Prime. There are deals to be found and older books available for free. Sometimes there's a book my son really wants that we have to pay full price for.

Overdrive Books for Free

One of the reasons that ebooks are working so well for us is that we are able to use the Overdrive service from our local library to borrow kids books for free. The range isn't huge but has enough books that he's interested in that it will be a major source of books for him over the next few years. They have the whole Harry Potter series and he has already read the first one and is desperate to read the rest (we're making him spread them out so he doesn't get to the darker ones too quickly.)

It's very easy to browse the e-Library and check out books and it's free and instant. Overdrive works from desktops, tablets and eReaders and it is definitely worth checking out what's available in your area.

Kindle Books and Samples

One of the other things we love about eBooks is the ability to get book samples to find out if they are appropriate. If my son hears about a book he might like or I come across something he might be interested in then I can send a sample to one of our devices. He can then take a look and see if it's the right reading level and he's interested.

This saves us buying books that he ends up not reading. It's much better than coming back from the library with a pile of books and then having to take them back unread.

Amazon Prime and Deal of the Day

We have Amazon Prime so we get to borrow one book a month for free from a selection. Sometimes my son gets to choose this book (and sometimes I do for myself.) I also keep an eye on the Amazon Kids Book Deal of the Day for children's titles that might interest one of my kids. And then there's Kindle Freetime Unlimited subscription service for kids which includes eBooks.

These can all help to manage the cost of acquiring eBooks for a small bookworm.

Classic Kids eBooks for Free

Some classic kids books are out of copyright in many countries and still very readable today. I've got Alice in Wonderland and lots of others on the list of books my kids should read or have read to them. The Children's Literature Bookshelf at Project Gutenberg is a great source (free but donations appreciated.)

Choosing a Device

Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers
@ Amazon
My son switches between devices depending on what is available / handy / charged at a particular time. The Kindle Fire HD is probably the device he uses most often, and the iPad gets used regularly too. I've also got an older generation Kindle Reader which he uses.

The new Kindle Paperwhite with FreeTime for Kids looks like a good option if you are looking to get a new device for kids. It has a vocabulary building feature which looks very useful.

My son often looks up unfamiliar words as he reads a book. Being able to refer back to those is an excellent feature.

He's happy with all the devices though. And doesn't really mind which device he's reading on. He does love books though. Some children may find using a tablet a distraction when they also use it to play games.

Parental Controls

Since the first Kindles came out Amazon have listened and started to provide parental controls for their Kindle Tablets and for the Kindle Paperwhite eReader.

This means that kids can share an Amazon account with parents but only have access to content selected by their parents. And depending on the device there are other controls then can be set up.

We Still Love Some Paper Books

There are still plenty of reasons to love paper books. My son loves his Lost Journal of Indiana Jones which is designed to look like the real thing. And his Encyclopedia Prehistoric boxed set by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart is a real work of art and paper engineering. And he loves sitting with a pile of books that cover some some aspect of the era of history he's currently fascinated with.

School still use paper books so his school reading books are also of the paper variety. 

We do still visit the library occasionally. But instead of borrowing the paper books we tend to make a not of them so we can get hold of a digital version.

We won't be giving up completely on paper books. But for regular reading of novels there's no going back. Paper books have started to feel really inconvenient and my kids will grow up with eBooks being normal.

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