Our founder David Rothman wrote an interesting column on how to use e-books as part of an educational strategy for encouraging children to read. He suggests that parents should aim for a mix of electronic and paper books, using paper books as “gateway drugs” to get kids interested and e-books for times when paper books are not available or appropriate. He also suggests that developers should look into different ways of using e-book content to make it more effective for learning.

The effectiveness of the actual books for children is just one issue. As part of preschool programs, children may learn how to hold and otherwise use a book; e-tech is more complicated for them and their parents alike. One question is the extent to which to associate multipurpose iPad-style devices with reading, as opposed to other activities. A Boston pediatrician, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffee, reportedly has even said that children under two should not fiddle around with iPads except when the devices are displaying books. I myself can envision parents using the multimedia for themselves to master topics such as childcare and health-related ones. But that is different from just plopping an unattended toddler down in front of the iPad.

Rothman points out in a recent column on TeleRead that one of the points of his series is that parents should do more than “simply [use] e-books as babysitters.” But kids may not be the only ones who need to learn how best to use e-books in learning. Time has an article warning that parents who use e-readers with their kids can actually impede the learning process.

This phenomenon first turned up a few years ago in research at Temple University on e-books for preschool and elementary school children. Instead of talking with their children about the content of the books, parents ended up spouting “do this, don’t do that” directives about how to use the devices. “Parents would put their hands over the kids’ hands,” said Julia Parish-Morris, the leader of the study and now a post-doctoral researcher in pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. “They were trying to control their children’s behavior” to get them to move through the story chronologically, she explained.

Another study mentioned in the article suggests that parents might “[have] to be trained on how to ask questions and prompt their children to talk about” books viewed through electronic media, as it doesn’t seem to come naturally.

This puts me in mind of some of my own experiences in tech support and lab assisting. One of the lessons I learned was that, if you want someone to learn how to do something, you can’t just reach in and do it for them—you have to talk them through it so they get that kinesthetic experience of doing it for themselves. That can be a really hard lesson to learn for someone without a lot of patience—you want to just get the thing done for them and move on. Perhaps it’s something similar with parents and gadgets—they want kids to use it “the right way” but have trouble realizing that there is no “right way” when it comes to learning.


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