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Article: Reading a Book or Using a Tablet...What's the Diff?

by Lisa Thauvette

One of the arguments waged against digital devices is how eyes are glued to the screen resulting in less live interaction; screen time is generally a solitary activity. It is common at this point for someone to retort that books share this attribute of being a solitary what's the difference between engaging with a book or engaging with a digital device? In particular, how do children experience storytelling when engaged with an analog book or a digital device?

It is overwhelmingly evident when reading with a child that it is a social and emotional experience. Most families value reading time as a nice moment in the day to sit together, enjoy a story, have a nice chat, and share a cuddle. However, when it comes to 'reading' or 'storytelling' on tablets it needs to be recognized as a wholly different experience altogether. So what? you may ask...reading is reading.

To understand the differences of the two, we can compare the functionality of a book and that of a smart device (be it a phone, tablet, or laptop). Books have a front cover a back cover and pages in-between. There are words and pictures in the book, telling a story or sharing a message. The pages can be turned and the book can be opened and closed. Options for the manipulation of a book are plentiful yet finite.

In contrast, the tablet, although simple in its physical attributes is a vessel of thousands of functions. Your young child is aware of this and it is reinforced with the eBook's use of animated illustrations, and audio bells and whistles. Some online books have notifications that pop-up during story-time, a distraction during shared story time (as well, when your child is on the device alone).

Physical books on the other hand offer an isolation of function. A child can manipulate the physical pages, point to the typed words, and view the illustrator's stationary images. Plenty to look at, see, touch, and imagine for a young child, yet not too much to distract. With this finite stimulation there is more room for the child and adult to engage and interact with each other. Since books don’t make noise, then conversations are more prevalent while sharing a book than sharing a tablet. There is conversation about the story, but also about the other things on the child’s mind. The scientific evidence of shared book reading with young children is clear and strong; a claim that digital books cannot automatically transfer. It is the unique attributes of the physical book, which are apparent and limited, that opens up the greatest benefits of the shared book reading experience.

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