Child With Tablet

When I was looking through recently published research and came across a study titled Parent-Toddler Behavior and Language Differ When Reading Electronic and Print Picture Books, I clicked on it expecting to find another study warning of the possible drawbacks of ebooks compared to good old-fashioned print.

So I was surprised to find that the paper went on to list several possible advantages of electronic picture books over print picture books for toddlers.

In the study, run by researchers from University of South Dakota and University of Toronto, a hundred children between the ages of 17 and 26 months read either electronic or print picture books with their parents.

Observing the toddlers’ behavior, the researchers found that electronic books piqued the toddlers’ interest. Toddlers who were reading ebooks paid attention more closely and were more cooperative with the reading process. They also turned the pages more themselves and made more comments about what they were reading. And they displayed more positive emotions.

As you might expect, their heightened attention helped them get more out of what they were reading. When the toddlers were given a “pop quiz” afterwards and asked to identify a new kind of animal that had appeared in one of the books, toddlers who’d read the electronic version did better.

In the words of the researchers, these findings indicate that the ebooks “supported children’s learning by way of increasing their engagement and attention.” What remains unclear is why this is the case – were the electronic books more novel for the toddlers, or is there something about ebooks that inherently helps children pay attention?

We know that in some situations, print books seem to facilitate toddlers’ learning of new words more than electronic books. And researchers have found that toddlers can sometimes end up making more comments about the ebook platform than about the content of the book itself when reading electronic books.

Still, the newest study suggests that it’s not necessarily a simple case of print books being superior to electronic books for children. As time go on, we may discover that print books and electronic books both have advantages in certain contexts and that for young children, there’s value in both.

Image: Flickr/Honza Soukup