reading science

Are paper books better for children or e-books? The answer is more complex than you think

Researchers need to look at a new angle – how they compare when when it comes to shared reading, or parents reading to children.

Most of us have an opinion about whether we prefer reading on screen or paper: but what difference does it make for children? The truth is that technology is now encountered from babyhood. Anecdotes abound of toddlers swiping their fingers across paper rather than turning the page, while parents and teachers express their fear of screen addiction as tablets introduce new distractions as well as new attractions for young readers.

Ofcom figures tell us that children’s screen use rises sharply towards the end of primary school (from age seven to 11) and in the same period, book-reading drops. Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?

We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.

Warming up

We asked 24 mothers and their seven to nine-year-old children to take turns – mother reading or child reading – with popular fiction books on paper, and on a tablet. They read Barry Loser: I am not a Loser by Jim Smith and You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. We found that the children’s memory for the descriptions and narratives showed no difference between the two media. But that’s not the whole story.

The interactions of parent and child were found to be different in the independent ratings from video observation of the study. When they read from paper rather than a screen, there was a significant increase in the warmth of the parent/child interactions: more laughter, more smiling, more shows of affection.

It may be that this is largely down to the simple physical positioning of the parent and child when using the different media, as well as their cultural meaning. When children were reading from a screen, they tended to hold the tablet in a head-down position, typical of the way they would use the device for solo activities such as one-player games or web-browsing.

This meant that the parents had to “shoulder-surf” in order to share visual attention. In contrast, when parents read to their children on paper, they often held the book out to support shared visual engagement, tucking the child cosily under their arms. Some children just listened without trying to see the book, but instead curled themselves up comfortably on the sofa.

Paper or pixels?  Megan Trace/Flickr, CC BY-NC
Paper or pixels? Megan Trace/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Keep taking the tablets?

Our research joins a growing list of studies comparing paper and e-books, but the answer isn’t a simple one. Shared reading is different to reading alone, for a start. And we may be interested in whether screen or paper makes a difference in how children learn to read, to understand, and enjoy reading. In short there are multiple perspectives to consider – developmental, educational, literary and technological – if we are to decide which medium is preferable.

Most studies have compared children at the earliest stages of reading, using paper books, e-books with audio and dictionary support to help less-skilled readers, and so-called “enhanced” e-books with multimedia, activities, hotspots and games.

Text with audio support helps children to decode text, and multimedia can keep a reluctant reader engaged for longer, so a good e-book can indeed be as good as an adult reading a paper book with their child. But we don’t yet have long-term studies to tell us whether constant provision of audio might prevent children developing ways of unpicking the code of written language themselves.

Re-design for life

There is also increasing evidence that adding multimedia and games can quickly get distracting: one study found that young children spent almost half their time playing games in enhanced e-books, and therefore they read, remembered and understood little of the story itself. But there is plenty of guidance for e-book developers on the what, where and how much of designing multimedia texts.

And that brings us back to perhaps the defining conclusion from our own study. Books versus screens is not a simple either/or – children don’t read books in a cultural vacuum and we can’t approach the topic just from a single academic field. Books are just books, with a single typical use, but screens have many uses, and currently most of these uses are designed round a single user, even if that user is interacting with others remotely.

We believe that designers could think more about how such technology can be designed for sharing, and this is especially true for reading, which starts, and ideally continues, as a shared activity in the context of close long-term family relationships. Book Trust figures report a drop from 86% of parents reading with their five-year-olds to just 38% with 11-year olds. There is a possibility that the clever redesign of e-books and tablets might just slow that trend.

Nicola Yuill, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Sussex.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Five memes that explain why you need a toothpaste for your payday

That payday smile won’t shine itself.

At the end of the month, every salaried professional experiences a wide range of feelings. First, there’s extreme possessiveness - after spending several days trying to live off whatever little is left from paying bills and all those shopping binges, you’re understandably cranky and unwilling to part with the cash you have.

Giphy
Giphy

Then the week of payday arrives and you can finally breathe a sigh of relief again. As the glorious day comes closer, you can’t contain your excitement.

Giphy
Giphy

And then payday dawns and the world gets to behold an interesting phenomenon - your payday-wala smile. It is instantly recognizable as something different and special - it stretches across your face, from ear to ear and is mirrored on the faces of your colleagues. Soon the excitement wears off and you are at complete peace. You have worked hard, you’ve earned your keep, you are in Zen mode.

Giphy
Giphy

But is there a way to make payday even happier? And make your payday smile last even longer? You may be astonished to learn there is. A way that will make you so much happier – your smile will gradually consume most of your face and need extra grooming. In fact, you might have to consider getting a special toothpaste, the Happier Toothpaste to care for the smile you have on that happier payday.

So how can you get more salary in-hand on your payday? Simple – invest in Equity Linked Savings Schemes or ELSS. These are open-ended equity Mutual Funds, with a 3 year lock-in period, that not only help you save tax but also have potential for wealth creation.

Giphy
Giphy

The icing on the cake is that the dividends from these funds are also tax free. So ELSS means more salary in-hand for you today, more potential growth for you tomorrow! To know more about ELSS and to get your own Happier Toothpaste, click here.

Statutory Details: Axis Mutual Fund has been established as a Trust under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, sponsored by Axis Bank Ltd. (liability restricted to Rs. 1 Lakh). Trustee: Axis Mutual Fund Trustee Ltd. Investment Manager: Axis Asset Management Co. Ltd. (the AMC). Risk Factors:Axis Bank Ltd. is not liable or responsible for any loss or shortfall resulting from the operation of the scheme.

Mutual Fund Investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Axis Mutual Fund and not by the Scroll editorial team.