Study: Toddlers respond much more to print books over e-books

As it turns out good old fashioned printed books inspired the most positive verbal interactions between toddlers and their parents. We should take a cue.

A laboratory-based, counterbalanced study published March of this year in The Journal Pediatrics examines the reading habits employed by parents and their two to three-years-olds.

Researchers at the University of Michigan initiated the study with 37 pairs of parents. All parents were asked to read similar stories using three different formats: traditional printed books, electronic books on a tablet and enhanced printed books equipped with interactive animations and sounds. All interactions were videotaped.


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Toddlers prefer the gold standard

As it turns out good old fashioned printed books inspired the most positive verbal interactions between toddlers and their parents. These included questions and remarks that indicated generally focused engagement.

The study reports, “Parents and toddlers verbalized less with electronic books, and collaboration was lower. Future studies should examine specific aspects of tablet-book design that support parent-child interaction. Pediatricians may wish to continue promoting the shared reading of print books, particularly for toddlers and younger children.”

The first author of the study, Dr. Tiffany Munzer, found that reading through a tablet seemed to stifle “the rich back-and-forth turn-taking that was happening in printed books. ”

The researchers believe that the inherent distractions associated with electronic devices generate the wrong kind of dialogue. Things like “don’t touch that button,” or “stop adjusting the volume”, in addition to mini disputes about who got to hold the respective devices.  Generally speaking, tablets are associated with independent use which also impedes socially interactivity.

There are certainly benefits to more interactive forms of taking in information, but toddlers in particular benefit from energetic communal-synergistic learning experiences.

Because some recent studies suggest reading for fun tends to decline as children enter the world of academia, it’s vital to introduce reading as an enjoyable social activity as early as possible.  Independent research has shown that children that read with their parents very early, express skills of concentration, linguistic proficiency, and even empathy.

Dr. Munzer confirms, saying, “Shared reading promotes children’s language development, literacy, and bonding with parents.”

Unlike older children, toddlers tend to retain information much less readily when it’s presented digitally. Parents that are enthusiastic and interactive with their toddlers while reading with them will ensure that the child’s love of literature will follow them well into adolescence.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.