Motivating Kids to Read in Print and Pixels
Learning to read well is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests pediatricians “prescribe” that parents read aloud to young children. For many parents, the question is how kids should be reading. Is reading on a screen better or worse than reading a physical book? It’s beginning to look as though kids have an advantage if they are comfortable with both print and pixels. Here are suggestions about how to encourage both skills at every age.
Before age 5. Very young children are drawn to color and sound, so it’s no surprise that they reach for tablets and cellphones. Seek out responsive instead of passive apps, so kids become accustomed to the idea that they can control what happens on the screen.
Research also suggests that there are measurable benefits from sharing traditional picture books with little ones. In one recent study, children ages 3-5 understood more about a story when parents read from a paper book rather than an e-book. Researchers speculate that the kids — and their parents — got distracted by the options presented by the e-book, so they were less able to focus on its content. Also, when parents read paper books, they were more likely to engage in what experts call “dialogic reading,” adding questions and asides that connect the story to the child’s experience.
Elementary school. Before they are competent readers, children enjoy playing interactive games. Research suggests that the selective attention required by games may actually teach kids to screen out distraction, making it easier for them to focus on other online tasks, like reading.
Even after they can read independently, children still benefit from reading aloud with parents, so don’t give up prematurely on bedtime stories. Reading together gives parents opportunities to ask questions that deepen a child’s connection to the text. It’s also a good age to encourage reading as a habit. Whenever possible, set aside 30 minutes a day for dedicated reading.
Middle school. Online reading requires much greater self-control than a physical book, according to Julie Coiro, a researcher who has studied digital reading comprehension in middle school students. Since preteens are so easily distracted, they may need help in structuring online homework so they don’t bounce endlessly between websites, games, social media and text messages. Talk to your tween or teen about tuning out e-noise when they read, if only because schoolwork will be finished more quickly. Ask them to put the phone in airplane mode and avoid clicking on extraneous links.
High school. Researchers are beginning to detect subtle differences in what people comprehend when they read on devices versus paper. For example, one study found that people who read online were able to recall facts but had a harder time writing an analysis of the material. Encourage your high school student to make more deliberate choices about how he or she wants to read by asking question about what works best. Be sure your teen has access to physical books he or she can annotate. Introduce the idea of keeping a reading journal and sharing thoughts on social media sites devoted to books, such as Riffle, Goodreads and Shelfari.
At every age, children are more likely to become proficient readers if they are surrounded by ample opportunities to read. Go to the library. Pick up paperbacks at garage sales and download free books from websites like Project Gutenberg at gutenberg.org. Most of all, don’t belittle one kind of reading at the expense of another.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer savvy kids, including one with special needs. She is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict.