Which is better for reading to your toddler: Print or ebooks?

A father and son are reading a book together on father's day in their home.

As we move more and more into a digital age, we use our devices for communication, news, information, games, and so much more. So, it’s natural to reach for a tablet when it comes time to read our child a story. After all, a book is a book, whether it’s print or electronic, right?

Yes — and no. According to a study published in JAMA, there was an observable difference in interactions when parents read their toddlers books on a tablet instead of a print book. The toddlers were less interested and more likely to turn away. In general, they were less engaged.

This is important, because engagement is key for child development. It’s the back-and-forth between the child and caregiver, or “serve and return” as described by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, that builds neural connections and supports the development of communication and social skills. That “serve and return” doesn’t have to take place while reading a book. It can happen easily through daily conversations and interactive play. But reading books together is a perfect opportunity to help children learn while strengthening the relationship you have with them.

Why are electronic books less engaging to young children?

It’s hard to know exactly what it is about electronic books that makes them less engaging than print books. It may be simply that young children like to touch and hold things, and that physically turning pages draws them in more than tapping a screen.

The study was small, only 37 parent-child pairs. The children were young, with a mean age of about 2.5 years. It’s hard to know what a bigger study with a wider range of ages might show.

Reading makes a difference, in print or ebooks

The most important thing isn’t really what kind of book you read to your child, it’s that you read to your child. Whether it’s print or electronic, here are some ways to engage your child and get the most out of the experience:

  • Don’t just read the words. Comment on the story, and ask your child questions about it (“Would you like to do that? Does he look happy or sad? What do you think will happen next?”)
  • Have your child point things out on the page (“Where is the dog?”)
  • Relate it to your child’s experience (“We have a swing like that at the park! Do you remember when I pushed you on it?”)
  • Look for books that have predictable repetition to them (books by Eric Carle are a good example), and encourage your child to “read” along with you.
  • Share the holding of the book and turning pages. If the book is a shared object, rather than just something the grownup holds and controls, it can be more interesting to the child.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Jeremiah 15:10 Woe to me, my mother, that you have borne me As a man of strife and a man of contention to all the land! I have not lent, nor have men lent money to me, Yet everyone curses me.

Luke 10:41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;

Luke 21:34 “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;

Luke 24:17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad.

Deuteronomy 28:65 “Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.

Deuteronomy 28:34 “You shall be driven mad by the sight of what you see.

Zechariah 12:4 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will strike every horse with bewilderment and his rider with madness. But I will watch over the house of Judah, while I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness.

Romans 1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,

Psalm 42:6 O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Proverbs 12:25 Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

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