Best Practices for Designing Children’s Digital Reading Experiences

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When it comes to kids using tablets, a tap, swipe or drag goes a much longer way than a pinch, double-tap or tilt. There are some gestures pre-school kids intuitively understand more than others when it comes to reading enhanced ebooks and children’s book apps on tablets, according to a new report from Sesame Workshop.

The report isn’t based on academic research but on Sesame’s history of studying how kids learn. Though the tablet era is not yet three years old (younger still than the ever-youthful Elmo), executives at Sesame have told Digital Book World that the company is engaged in studying how children learn on tablets, starting with the basics, like which gestures commonly used on touch screens makes sense to them.

“These best practices are a result of our research with preschoolers and their parents, said said Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., senior vice president of education and research at Sesame in a statement. “We design with parents and caregivers in mind and know that through joint media engagement children learn more and our content has a greater educational impact.”

Because of the newness of tablet experiences for children, there are two major problems that have long been tackled in the print world that Sesame and others are attacking in the digital world:

1. How do kids interact with the devices and digital content?
2. How educational are the digital reading experiences currently available — both compared to print experiences and to the ideal digital educational experiences?

At Sesame and other similar places, researchers are focused more today on the former than the latter, preferring first to address issues around how to make digital reading experiences that children can effectively interact with before figuring out how to help them learn.

The report released today listed tablet gestures that are intuitive for kids (tap, draw/move finder, swipe, drag and slide) and ones that are less intuitive (pinch, tilt/shake, multi-touch, flick/fling and double tap). It also addressed design issues, like visual layout and texts used. Download the complete PDF here.

Sesame is also a pioneer in researching how kids learn with digital content. Several studies on the topic have come out from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that promotes reading and literacy in children. In one, it was shown that while children prefer digital reading experiences over print, reading comprehension for certain enhanced ebooks is lower than their print counterparts. Another study showed that parents and children still prefer the experience of curling up with an old-fashioned print book together instead of with a tablet computer. In a recent report, the Center found that most educational apps only address very early literacy issues like letters and phonics, preferring to ignore the more complicated stuff like grammar.

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