By Miles Young


Those of us who have been around for a while continue to marvel at the way mobile technology is rapidly becoming a part of everyday life. For today’s young children, however, smartphones and tablets are as basic and intuitive as the household refrigerator. Parents and teachers alike are asking themselves: what role do e-readers have on today’s learning reader?

One of the reasons it is difficult to reach a conclusion is because there are several factors to consider, including age, platform, and whether the child is reading alone or with a parent. It is also important to note that the effects of digital reading suffer the same demographic gaps as print reading. This means gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status all play an important role. Still, academics and child health professionals have some important advice on the fears and hopes surrounding e-readers.

Hope: eReaders Improve Technical Skills

E-readers help young children develop important technical and fine-motor skills. Digital reading technology is more interactive in nature, and caters to unique learning styles (and even some disabilities). Studies have found students with dyslexia (traditionally prone to become frustrated and distracted while reading) actually benefit from the large font format of e-readers. Technological literacy is now just as important as reading literacy, and children benefit from getting an early start.

Fear: Screen Time Causes Eye Strain

Parents want their children to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the modern world. Still, those responsible for their children’s care must ask whether extra screen time early on will result in nearsightedness down the road. Dr. Andrew C. Siesennop at Tufts Floating Hospital for Children says that while e-reading does cause some eye strain, it is no different from watching television, playing video games, or reading a paper book.

Hope: E-Readers Improve Literacy Rates

Educational technology is a dramatically growing industry. School districts across the country are distributing e-readers to their students in the hopes that it will improve literacy scores. Parents of small children are installing reading apps on their home devices before their youth even begin school. The impact e-reading has on literacy rates is still inconclusive, especially as it compares to traditional print reading. One important benefit, however, is that e-readers offer an obvious platform for multimedia lessons (with audio and visual cues) that have proven effective in the past.

Fear: Electronic Devices are too Expensive

Cost is a very important factor when discussing educational methods. Although everybody wants today’s children to have the best technology has to offer, all families deserve equal access to learning tools. Many fear that less advantaged children and schools will fall behind if the reading revolution turns fully digital. Fortunately, mobile devices are becoming increasingly accessible as more companies enter the market. Today, studies estimate up to one in three children younger than eight have a dedicated e-reader in their home. And the availability of e-reader devices has grown exponentially over the last few years — in fact, most Internet-enabled devices have integrated e-reader apps and functions as well.

Hope: Reading Apps Improve Speed

A useful advantage of an e-reader is that it provides a number of educational apps specifically tailored to various reading levels. Interactive reading games are improving speed and comprehension, especially for small children. Similar to video games, these apps encourage children with cheerful sounds and “achievements” for reaching different milestones. One Scholastic author found e-readers helped ESL (English as a Second Language) students increase their vocabularies from 200 English words to over a thousand. One theory is that digital readers help highlight and pinpoint words students struggle with, something a traditional book cannot do.

There are still many questions surrounding the difference between e-readers and print books. Parents and teachers should ask themselves certain questions: How do children and families actually use ebooks? What type of reading should educators measure: just books, or social media and communication? The general consensus is that both print books and digital readers build separate skills for the young reader. Rather than choose one or the other, students should use both as complementary skills that will help them become well-rounded, effective readers.

Miles Young is a freelance writer, designer and business columnist. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.

Image via Flickr by mccun934