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15th Oct 2019

Read bedtime stories from a book, not a screen, says expert

Trine Jensen-Burke

My favourite time of day with my children is bedtime.

Not because they are going to bed, per se – although sometimes that is reason to celebrate too. But rather, it is our little bedtime routine I love so much. Ever since my little girl was very, very little, we pile into the big bed, snuggle down together and read a book before she goes to sleep. When her little brother joined the family, we soon extended our little routine to two books (or chapters, if the books are long-ish). They each get to pick a story, we read his first, then hers, and then snuggle together until they fall asleep (and can be lifted into their own beds).

What this little family habit has cultivated, I think, is not only a love of our end-of-day snuggle time, but also a love of books and of reading – something which makes me so happy. In our highly technological climate today, being able to get your children excited about reading a book is an important job as a parent, if you ask me. While more and more of us now read on screens, both to ourselves and our kids, a new study has come out to remind us that when it comes to reading to your kids, it seems traditional books reign supreme.

Researchers from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan recently found that when parents read to their young children for story time, there is more conversation and interaction when a print book is used instead of an electronic book.

“Shared reading promotes children’s language development, literacy, and bonding with parents,” said Dr. Tiffany Munzer. “We wanted to learn how electronics might change this experience. We found that when parents read children print books, they talked more frequently and the quality of the interactions were better.”

To see how interactions changed between parents and children when they used e-books versus print books, the researchers had 37 parent-children pairs try reading on three different formats: regular print books, e-books on a tablet, and e-books that featured animations and sound effects.

Overall, the researchers found that both parents and toddlers talked less while reading either of the e-books when compared to a traditional print book. Additionally, when e-books were used, the majority of the conversation was about the technology, as opposed to the story or any outside anecdotes.

Dr. Munzer notes that the commentary parents offer while reading often has lasting effects on children’s development. Things like asking children questions that can relate to their own experiences or the world at large have been found to help children mature.

Conversely, e-books — particularly those with the added animations and sound effects — didn’t offer as many opportunities for parents to chime in on their own. Instead, the researchers speculate that parents let the story itself command attention.

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

The researchers hope that this study encourages parents to keep their interactions consistent across the board when reading to children, regardless of what format they choose.

“Our findings suggest that print books elicit a higher quality parent-toddler reading experience compared with e-books,” said researcher Dr. Jenny Radesky. “Paediatricians may wish to continue encouraging parents to read print books with their kids, especially for toddlers and young children who still need support from their parents to learn from any form of media.”