More scientific proof that doing things the old-fashioned way is better.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
March 26, 2019
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If you're anything like us, you love the tangible quality of holding a book in your hand, flipping each page with a ginger caress (and maybe a lick of your thumb), and reading to someone you love.

Whether that book is The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies or The Little Engine That Could so many childrens' books teach our little ones (and us, too!) important lessons. But could those morals not sink in quite as well if we're reading to a tot from an e-reader? As laymen, we intuitively know that printed books possess benefits that e-books simply can't match — and new research is backing our theory up.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals important differences in how children respond to traditional books as compared to electronic versions. A research team at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital looked at 37 parent-toddler duos reading print books, basic electronic books, and enhanced e-books with added effects like sound and animation. As their findings indicated, parents and their children alike talked and interacted less when reading electronic books compared to print books.

"Shared reading promotes children's language development, literacy and bonding with parents. We wanted to learn how electronics might change this experience," said lead author Tiffany Munzer, M.D., a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Mott in a statement published on Science Daily. "We found that when parents and children read print books, they talked more frequently and the quality of their interactions were better."

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Of course, the study had some shortcomings, like a small sample size and the relative newness of electronic books which may impact how parents approach reading them to their kids (i.e., the bells and whistles of the technology itself may influence the delivery of their reading, gestures, etc.). Nevertheless, the results seem to indicate that printed word is the way to go when reading to children — especially younger ones.

"Parents strengthen their children's ability to acquire knowledge by relating new content to their children's lived experiences," Munzer said. "Research tells us that parent-led conversations is especially important for toddlers because they learn and retain new information better from in-person interactions than from digital media."

Now, if only we could get our 15-year-old to ditch the app and write his history flash cards using the oh-so-sophisticated index card method.