Could Kindles Affect Kids' Ability to Learn to Read?

Do you have a preschool child discovering the world of reading? If so, you might think twice before handing over a Kindle, Nook or other electronic reader. Despite the growing popularity of these devices, it seems technology might take a back seat when it comes to beginning readers. While it may ultimately come down to personal preference, it's likely worth hearing what some experts have to say.

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Nothing Like a Real Book

From researchers to bookstore owners, it seems that in many cases real books are the clear winner over their electronic counterparts when it comes to beginning readers.

Carl D. Howe, a research director for a Boston market research firm called Yankee Group, says that children should be exposed to reading initially through 'real books', though he does not discount the value of ebooks later.

Children's Bookstore owner JoAnn Fruchtman echoes, 'I strongly believe that children should have real books.' Fruchtman cites sensory stimulation as an advantage that real books have over Kindles and other e-readers, claiming the feel and even smell of a book can all play a part when a child starts to read.

And even some parents, Kindle readers themselves, note the benefits of real books for those just discovering reading. Kelly Emerson, a mother of three, recently told The Baltimore Sun that real books could give her children more of a feeling of a beginning, middle and end.

'I want their first experience of books to be books,' she said.

Not for Beginners?

The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates unstructured play time over ebook reading. The academy states that extensive use of such devices could actually cause a delay in language development once users start school.

Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University professor and founder of the school's Center for Reading and Language Research, says that reading on electronic devices might stifle the development of what she calls 'deep reading processes'.

Essentially, Wolf feels that ebooks and other electronic media engage children, but at a 'superficial' level. She fears that ebook reading does not allow children to 'go beyond what is read to his or her own thoughts' and use their imaginations.

In addition, some say that ebooks are simply geared for older children and established readers. Jeremy Brueck, a noted researcher in children's digital reading, told School Library Journal in June 2011 that 'good ebooks for the purposes of literacy instruction for young children are hard to find.'

On the Other Hand...

The argument is made, however, that Kindles and other e-readers provide access to books for children that they might not otherwise have had.

And while the engagement might be superficial, as Professor Wolf notes, it's still engagement. Some children, who have likely been exposed to other electronic media, simply might not be stimulated by a real book but will respond to pictures and words on a screen.

In the end, it could come down to this: ebooks are better than nothing at all. As kindergarten teacher Deborah Hughey told The Baltimore Sun in January 2012: 'I would say it doesn't matter what you read, just practice.'

It also comes down, of course, to parental judgment. If mom and dad decide to let their child learn to read on a Kindle despite professional opinions urging otherwise then at least, as Ms. Hughey would agree, they'll be reading.

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