Why you shouldn't be worried if your kids prefer digital books

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Many parents worry about their kids losing touch with the beauty and magic of a shared print book in a time when digital devices appear to be taking over.

But a new study suggests they needn't be concerned and that for children - preschoolers in particular - it's the content that matters most to comprehension and not whether it's delivered in digital or print form.

The findings of a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development were delivered on May 1, at an annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. It said that while interacting with a loved one over a book is an irreplaceable activity, it may not necessarily enhance understanding of the story for preschoolers.

Certainly for babies and young toddlers, what's known as the 'video deficit' comes into play; greater understanding is achieved through interaction with a person. Based on evidence of the video deficit, the current advice is to limit or deny screen use to babies and toddlers.

Researchers wanted to discover whether or not this carried through to preschool age, so 38 children aged three to four-years-old participated in a range of digital and print reading experiments, and assessed. Phys Org gives a run down of the process which involved two print and two digital books being read aloud.

"The digital stories came from Speakaboos, a digital library of interactive stories targeted to preschoolers and kindergarteners. Each story had animated pages that turned, characters that moved with the action of the story, and text that lit up during the narration. The researchers carefully adapted the four digital stories into printed books that were read aloud by an adult.

The children heard all four stories, but were randomly assigned to hear and watch two on a tablet, while two were read aloud by an adult. Following each story, children completed tasks measuring their story comprehension, vocabulary, and motivation for reading across media formats."

Co-authors Professor Susan B. Neuman and Dr Tanya Kaefer found that there was no discernible difference across the two formats, in how well the preschoolers understood the stories. The method of delivery also did not influence the children's motivation 'to read and learn.' Instead, it was found that content was king, proving that a great story is always the catalyst for interest.

Professor Neuman summised that, "It's possible that when it comes to books, we have overestimated the means of delivery and have underestimated the importance of the content conveyed in the media. Although certainly not a substitute for parent-child interactive reading, digital stories from quality media sources may represent an important source of learning for young children,"