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I enjoy a good book when I get the chance to read for pleasure. Like most parents, this is not as often as I would like. Along with the schedule constraints faced by parents and non-parents alike, I have to protect my books from sticky fingers and defacement by crayon. For convenience, I do most of my reading on my laptop and it’s usually in the form of a news article or blog I really love. I have yet to get an e-reader (please, oh please, Santa!) but have no qualms about reading anything that is necessary in an electronic format. The flip side is that I really do love books and am attached to several that I own. My parents bought me “Letters to my Daughter” by Maya Angelou when I was pregnant with my daughter and the I’ve kept the sticky gift tag with their heartwarming message stuck in the inside cover. I have a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” that I picked up at a flea market and later discovered is a first edition. I do not actually read that one though; it’s more of a decoration. I love libraries and bringing home a stack of books in triumph after navigating the Dewey decimal system. I have an emotional connection to books that does not necessarily coincide with my love of reading.
Which is why I have no problem with my kids (all under the age of 5) reading electronically. A New York Times article cites parents, many self-confirmed “tech freaks,” who do not allow their children to read from a screen. These parents believe that traditional paper books are the only way to teach a proper appreciation of reading, even if that makes them appear old-fashioned. Experts in the article explain how the engagement of the senses in reading a paper book is higher than electronic reading (the smell of the book, turning the page) and that by reading from a paper book, kids separate reading from the games and gadgets that are often associated with things like Kindles, iPads and other tablets. I will not argue with those points but instead I’ll raise a question:
In other words, is electronic reading for toddlers and the early reading crowd actually detrimental?
Without doing any market research, I would venture to say “no” and that the oppposite is actually true. Kids today grow up watching their parents on laptops, iPads and smartphones on a regular basis. The idea that Internet/electronic technology is an integral part of life, including family life, is one that this generation of kids will be the first to grow up believing. My four-year-old stepson can read. Not a few words. Not basic words. He can read, full blown, and he had the ability on his first day of preschool this fall. My husband never actually taught him to read. He read him books, bought him educational toys and workbooks and yes, allowed him to play online educational games on his laptop. Soon, my husband would find his son with an open Word document, typing words from a book he had grabbed from the kids’ bookshelf. Without pushing the issue, he learned to read and we now find him on the computer, younger sisters by his side, teaching them to read and spell. My stepson can read so well in part because of his introduction to electronic reading at an early age.
He still loves to go to the library and check out books. He enjoys being read to at night, along with his sisters. We are told that he likes to read books from the preschool library to his classmates. If he were given the choice of a book from a shelf or a book on an iPad, however, I believe he would choose the electronic format. And that’s okay.
Learning to read is the foundation of all learning. Electronic technology is a major component of contemporary communication, convenience and yes, education. So a merger of the two, even for very young children, is not worthy of a fight — in my book.
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