E-books Can Engage Your Toddler More Than Print Books, Study Finds

It turns out that screen time with books is actually pretty good for them.
ByNatalie Escobar
Published
Jun 2017
A baby sits on a chair and plays with a tablet
Photo: Getty

It’s probably not breaking news to you that reading to your child from birth is good for their brains and for parent-baby bonding. It’s also probably not news that you should limit your child’s screen time; new pediatric guidelines recommend that, apart from video-chatting, baby should stay away from screens and toddlers should only consume about an hour of high-quality programs. But when it comes to reading e-books to your children on a tablet, are you allowed to bend the screen time rules?

Devoted e-book owners, rejoice. Toddlers are actually more engaged and attentive when reading electronic books on touchscreen devices than traditional books, according to a study released on Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology by researchers Gabrielle Strouse of the University of South Dakota and Patricia Ganea of University of Toronto. They presented e-book and printed versions of the same story to toddlers from the ages of 17 to 26 months, and found that they were more likely to associate a new object (an picture of an animal from the story) with its new label (the animal’s name).

The researchers measured a lot of different things, including how parents and children pointed to pictures and talked about the story, but one of the more surprising findings was how toddlers engaged and learned more from the e-books. It’s not a shock that the e-books captured their attention; after all, they featured background music, animation, sound effects and a recorded voice reading the story. It was a surprise, however, how they weren’t distracted by all the bells and whistles of the book and retained important information at higher rates.

When paired with a study released by the same researchers this year, the benefits of e-books for toddlers become even clearer. According to a study of parents’ and toddlers’ language and behavior while reading electronic and print books, they found that toddlers paid more attention, seemed more excited about reading and retained more information than those who read print ones.

There are some exceptions to the findings, however. The researchers make a point of saying that not all e-books are created equal; some stories and story formats are simply more engaging than others. And while toddlers gained a lot from the simple sentence or two on each e-book page, the preschoolers in the study tended to get confused with more complex story arcs across multiple pages.

“When reading electronic books parents should consider the following things– to make sure to read along and support their child’s learning just like they would with print books, and to understand that engagement with the ebook hotspots doesn’t always equal engagement with the book’s educational content,” Strouse tells The Bump. So don’t throw out your print books just yet; your older children will need them later.

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