Are e-Books as Good as the Real Thing?

I think most busy parents, and I include myself in this list, would love for iPad books to be as effective as paper books. And a little fraction of us wishes that it is just as engaging – if not just a little bit more so – than the tried and true type that has been around since Johannes Gutenberg and his 15th century mates made books the next big thing.

Because honestly, if they were just that little bit more enthralling, like the iPad versions, then maybe you could slip out to the kitchen and unpack the dishwasher, or actually read the newspaper, or whip out to Bunnings and grab a leaf blower…

And I think that’s the problem.

The exact thing that makes iPads and other e-devices so engaging, is likely to be the exact thing that stops them from being great learning tools.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times today, raising this exact question. In it, they reference four journal articles. The first of them is in favour of e-Books; the other are a little more cautious.

In drilling down, the first article found that children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that were interactive than those without interaction. Hence, the whole Bunnings thing. We all know iPads are engaging. It’s the exact reason that Facebook addiction is a recognised phenomenon, with a majority of even casual users admitting it is the first thing they look at of a morning, and the last thing at night. The same thing that diverts you from getting off Facebook and returning to life, is the exact diversion that stops you from learning to read.

It is thought that the e-Book enhancements, the ‘bells and whistles’ that appear, distract from the main game – learning. They interfere with the dialogic reading – the back and forth that occurs when you have a conversation. Anyone who has had had a toddler knows the intonation of sounds that appears before the actual words. Kids learn by imitation. And if they are too busy trying to press the button or staring at Clifford barking, then they might not have the brain space to absorb the words.

The article reminds us of the ‘Baby Einstein’ craze through the nineties, with one in three families owning the Disney money-spinner. It was later found that there was a negative association on language development, and rather than face a class-action suit, Disney refunded parents, and removed the word ‘educational’ from the packet, thereby returning it to the rag-bag of entertainment, not dissimilar to bog-standard TV. We all love Sesame Street, but most of us know that it doesn’t replace talking to your kid. Well, same goes for this.

But we do need to be realistic. As I discussed with Denis Walter on 3AW Afternoons last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under two, and two hours per day for those over that age. I see thousands of kids a year, and I haven’t met many children who meet these guidelines. We live in a digital world. Children are growing up as the first generation of digital natives. iPads are not inherently evil. And any reading is better than no reading.

So the take home message is this: As a supplement, I don’t see it as a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the replacement.

I don’t want to sound all multigrain-bread on you, but there is nothing like human interaction and reading to your children. It’s something my wife and I do every night to our children. I love the Tilly Series by Polly Dunbar and Dr Seuss almost more than my children.

Okay more than my children.

Everything in moderation. It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it’s true. You won’t kill your kids using an iPad, but it ain’t no replacement. Bunnings is a fair way away, after all. They’re not the best baby sitters.

That’s what dogs are for…


To listen to the interview with Denis Walter on 3AW Afternoons, on 13th October 2014, click below:






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