Intuitively, most parents believe that printed books are better for children than digital ones. Are they right? Is there any research? What are the factors to be taken into account? We’ve done some digging and below are some of the considerations that will help you make an informed decision.
The obvious place to start is to ask children which books do they prefer. Research says that about two thirds of children would rather read a printed book than a digital one. While it is not clear why does this happen, there may be a hint in age statistics from the same study. It says that the older children get, the more likely they are to choose a digital book. A working theory is that digital books are more monotonous and can’t keep younger readers motivated.
When asked why do they think printed books are better, most parents express concerns about digital media in general. They are afraid that any use of screens could become a gateway into device addiction and that their children will miss out on interacting with the real world. Most parents are also worried that their children may be exposed to inappropriate content. While perfectly valid, all of those concerns can now be addressed with parental control solutions that will protect children from both inappropriate content and device abuse.
Comprehension of the material
Research says that switching from a printed to a digital book may result in as much as a 30% drop in comprehension. Again, there is no definitive answer as to why, but there is a theory that the drop is due to the pace of reading. Digital books tend to be read at a faster pace and children may skip over minor details. Same research shows that there is barely any difference in understanding the main idea of the material, and suggests that pacing yourself when reading a digital copy could help to improve overall comprehension.
Printed books seem to have an advantage in this area as well. They come in different sizes and weights and colors, and they offer a sense of ownership — printed books are a thing, a possession. Digital books lack the tactile properties of print, but they do have an advantage of interactivity. There is a dictionary, for one thing. And, when done right, digital books come with gamification elements and quizzes and various aids that help comprehension. We’d say it’s a tie for now, but we expect that in the future digital books will become more and more engaging, taking full advantage of their medium.
Teachers tend to favor a balanced approach with both printed and digital books used in a classroom. They also say that when used in a controlled environment, digital books do have an advantage. The option to look up the definition of every word helps children to advance their vocabulary much quicker than with a printed book. However, once children are left to their own device, they quickly become distracted with gaming and entertainment apps. So, yes to digital books, but only with the right approach.
Obviously we have to consider the practicality of both formats. While print is an amazing experience, it is also expensive and, well, heavy. Consider moving to a new place and having to bring your library along, or even going on vacation and adding a few books to your luggage, or doing research for a class and lugging around a stack of library books. Yes, print is great, but, considering the practicality of digital books, it’s becoming more of a luxury.
So, what’s the verdict? Considering all the literature on the topic, we’d say that teachers have got it right. Both print and digital have their merits, and what parents should adopt is a balanced approach. Start out with print and add digital books as your kid grows older. After that, reserve print for fun, enjoyable experiences, for reading together, or for particularly well-made books. Also, when you introduce your children to digital books, make sure to help them develop proper screen habits. Good luck!