reading aloud

Reading Aloud: Should You Use a Digital or Physical Book?

Ann O'Brien

November 17, 2022

Parents spend time every day around the world reading aloud to their children. Whether they pick up soft baby books, board books for toddlers, storybooks for young children, or chapter books for older kids, the practice of reading aloud to children is common practice and a beloved part of childhood for many kids and parents alike. In our busy world, a physical book might not be as convenient to use as digital platforms parents have access to on tablets or smartphones. But is reaching for a physical book to read to children that important?

Is Reading Aloud Important?

While we may not be able to recount why reading aloud is so critical for children, everyone can recognize that children benefit from hearing stories read to them. But reading aloud has proven benefits for childhood literacy and social and emotional development.

  • Attention Span: Even if book reading only takes a few short minutes, children are learning to increase their attention spans while listening to an engaging story, poem, or chapter.
  • Bonding: Reading to a child increases the caregiver-child bond and helps to increase feelings of connectivity for children to the adults who read to them.
  • Creativity: Little ones listen to fantastical tales, hear about heroic tasks, and take in stories about talking animals. Whether they are viewing pictures or just imagining the characters and actions in their minds, their own creativity is sparked as they make connections, think about how a character must look, or dream up the rest of the story.
  • Language Acquisition: One of the ways children learn about language patterns, develop new vocabulary, and develop related cognitive skills is through listening. Studies show that young children who experience varied speech patterns and are exposed to new vocabulary when they are read to as babies may even develop stronger communication and cognitive skills later in childhood.
  • Listening Skills: Children need to pay attention to the details as they listen to a book. Older kids may even be able to read along with caregivers long before they can actually read the words in a traditional sense. Kids learn to listen for the smallest details and specific information as they are read to, increasing their ability to follow along and think about what they are hearing.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Children hear stories about overcoming struggles and coming through difficult times in the books they hear. These lessons can help a child become more resilient as they grow up.

The Convenience Factor: Reaching for Digital

Just about every household has at least one – if not more – digital devices. From tablets to smartphones to laptops, electronics are an inescapable part of our lives. It’s no surprise that digital platforms, including e-readers and reading apps, make reaching for a book to read to your little one convenient and easy. For parents who make daily reading sessions a priority, reaching for a digital platform that provides an almost endless supply of new titles and book topics to choose from is a tempting choice.

What the Research Says

While digital platforms are not new, we don’t really know too much about how swapping out reading from a physical book with an e-book or reading app will impact children. So pediatric developmental researcher Tiffany Munzer, MD set out to discover the differences between reading to children with a physical book versus on an e-reading platform or reading app and how choosing a digital book will impact children’s development. The study used a tablet reading app that offered extension activities outside of the reading platform, including interactive buttons and an auto-play feature. Researchers found that children were more responsive to parents while they read to them from a physical book and that parents actually verbalized more interactions with children when they read from a book than with an electronic device. Since we know that little ones develop language, vocabulary, and bond over the shared experience of reading a book together, using an electronic version of books will be detrimental to their development.

Another finding from this study also showed that even when parents did engage the child in conversation around the story and experience, the language and quality of interactions appeared to be clearly dampened when the parent was using a digital platform. Having fewer conversations and using developmentally less-rich language, over time, could impact a child’s future communication, listening skills, and creative responses to what they read. And while the researchers do not go so far as to imply that reading to your child from a tablet or electronic platform is harmful, they do caution that it is clear that e-books do not provide the same growth opportunities for kids that reading from a physical book can.

The Allure of Physical Books

Even without science to back up how we feel about reading from a physical book, we know that the experiences of turning the crisp paper pages or of little hands pointing to brightly colored pictures can’t be replicated with an e-book or app on a tablet. So how can caregivers get the most out of the experience of snuggling up with a good story and a little one eager to listen?

  • Let the child pick the book regularly, even if they choose to hear favorites often.
  • Use different voices for characters to add to the excitement of a story.
  • Pause to ask questions about what might happen next or to consider why a character acts the way they do.
  • Encourage new readers to sound out unfamiliar words or point to words they know.
  • Let picture book readers help you with key phrases or by pointing to pictures in the book.
  • Read a short chapter aloud to older children to encourage stretching their attention, listening, and vocabulary skills.
  • Ask the child what kind of story they want to read to help them think about what they love and need.
  • Use book topics to engage your child in conversations about what the characters are going through and how they would feel if they were in the same situation.
  • Occasionally offer for the child to read aloud to you even if they are not confident or skilled readers.
  • Make a habit of reading together.

Publishing Your Children’s Book

The beauty of writing a book for children is that authors can present silly, funny, simple, and even surprisingly complex topics in a language that kids respond to. Bright colors, crisp photos, and engaging artwork all add to the excitement both kids and caregivers feel when they turn the pages of a book. Parents love to see children’s books that present charming characters that teach their children about life and family and the world around them, but they also know that kids love to laugh and enjoy the books that are read to them, too.

And parents know that the joy of reading children books begins with an author’s vision for a new story brought to life on the pages of their next book. And many writers choose to self-publish their own children’s books with a trusted printing company like Publishing Xpress because authors have the freedom to write and publish the stories and characters of their children’s books exactly how they envision it, in hopes of becoming the very book that families will slide off the shelf for their nightly reading session together.

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