In this age of technology, children are no strangers to smartphones and tablets. They have access to more options for reading than ever before. Do they actually prefer one mode of reading to another? A survey conducted in 2012 by the National Literacy Trust in UK of 34,910 8 to 16-year olds reported that of those surveyed, 52% preferred to read on screen compared with 32% who preferred print.
But the critical question on the minds of parents and educators is whether one form of reading is better than the other. Let’s take a look.
E-books are convenient because of their portability. E-readers and tablets have the capacity to hold numerous books in one handy, slim device. Certain features such as built-in dictionaries, adjustability of font and font size and even read-aloud features can enhance the reading experience of children.
However, studies have shown that digital reading generally discourages deep reading, recall of information and the sustained reading of longer texts. Repeated digital multitasking - using various digital forms simultaneously - may also lead to a more superficial processing of the text. There is also a tendency to scan and browse when reading online, rather than read slowly and carefully.
The actual feel of a book also has more importance than we realise. The ease with which readers can flip pages when they make connections or follow words with their fingers provides a sensory experience that cannot be replicated with digital reading. The reader can use certain strategies to regulate their reading such as checking back or re-reading to clarify their understanding. Print reading is also associated with close, sustained reading.
So, which is better?
So which form should we encourage our children to read in? The answer is neither simple nor direct. Instead, we need to adopt a balanced view and ensure our children are effective readers of both print and digital texts. It is also essential for them to know the appropriate reading skills to use for different reading purposes.
A 2015 Scholastic survey of 2558 parents with children aged 6- to 17-years old showed that the percentage of children who have read an e-book has increased steadily from 25% in 2010 to 61% in 2014. Parents can take advantage of this trend to motivate their reluctant readers to read. Children’s interest and abilities in digital reading can be utilised to start a cycle. Frequent reading of digital texts can ignite a love for reading which can later be transferred to print reading.
While we capitalise on digital reading interests, we should still promote print reading. This way, children will stand to gain from the benefits of both mediums. Ultimately, we strive for our children to have a mixed reading diet, both in terms of format and content.