Family, Kids & Relationships

Not All Reading With Toddlers Is Created Equal, Study Finds

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There’s no shortage of data that tells us reading with our children during their younger years is important. From studies showing that reading to your toddler increases their literacy scores to experts telling us it increases their language development, the benefits of reading are clear. Some parents even start reading to their babies in the womb.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics found that not all reading may be equal, however. The study examined “social reciprocity” between parents and toddlers when they read interactive tablet books (the kinds that have sound effects or animation), traditional books on a tablet, and print books. Researchers looked at differences such as body positioning, controlling behaviors (like the child grabbing or closing the book), and intrusive behaviors like the parent or child pushing the other’s hand away from the book.

The experiences of reading a paper book versus an e-book were quite different.

When parents and their toddlers read from a tablet, the study found more instances of controlling and intrusive behaviors. Children tended to take the tablet, wanted the screen to themselves and turned away from the parent in order to manipulate the screen on their own. In many cases the behaviors were even more pronounced for the enhanced tablet books. Children and parents reading from a print book showed significantly fewer instances of these behaviors.

The study concluded, “These findings suggest that toddlers may have difficulty engaging in shared tablet experiences with their parents.” Toddlers have trouble sharing a lot of things, so asking them to share a coveted tablet may be more than us parents can expect!

Any time with books of any kind, however, is time well spent.

Children are becoming magnets for any device with a screen these days. Carving out some screen-free time for print books is a great activity for children and their parents but, no matter how you do it, reading with your children is important.

Common Sense Media suggests, “If your kids are reading — and not getting distracted by the highly interactive features some ebooks have — then you should encourage them no matter which format they prefer.” Any reading we can squeeze in with our kids at any age is beneficial. If you have the time and the stack of books available, you’ll never regret picking one up and sharing a sweet storytime together.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -