As Ebooks and Apps Attempt to Teach Kids to Read, Parents Still Most Important Factor

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Even as new ebook and app technologies attempt to help solve the nation’s literacy problem, interaction between parents and children remains the most important factor in childhood literacy development a new report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the New America Foundation asserts.

About a third of all fourth-grade students read at what is considered their grade-level and only one in six of those who qualify for free school lunches read at grade-level. Technology is trying to help. About 80% of the top-selling paid apps in the education category in iTunes target children, according to a product scan by the Center, which also cites growth in children’s ebook revenues.

A measurement of these apps and ebooks found that most of them focus on very basic literacy skills like learning letters and basic sounds and relatively few focus on more advanced literacy skills like reading comprehension and grammar.

However, as the report notes, “To ensure strong reading skills for all children in the next generation, it will take much more than a flurry of literacy apps.” The report recommends that parents, teachers and programs designed to help children learn to read utilize technology to their benefit and makes four specific recommendations:

1. Promoting personal connections between parents and educators using social media, cell phones and online learning communities.
2. Make certain apps, ebooks and games that support basic literacy skills available to parents and educators.
3. Provide parents and educators with knowledge about new technologies and services available to educate children.
4. Improve the quality of teachers, librarians and family care providers by connecting them to each other and new resources that promote literacy and learning.

Despite what it labels as a crisis in literacy among U.S. children, the report concludes on an optimistic note, “We are at an opportune moment for harnessing digital media to support parents, educators and children in building the next generation’s reading skills.”

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that promotes childhood education and the New America Foundation is a nonprofit organization that studies challenges facing America.

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