By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Parents prefer reading print books with their children over digital options and they believe that their children prefer being read to in print, too, according to a recent survey.
A new survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to studying and promoting children’s reading, asked 1,200 parents who read with their children on what platform they preferred doing so and what platform they thought their children preferred. A majority answered “print” to both questions.
The second finding contradicts other Joan Ganz Cooney studies, released today, that suggest children prefer e-books to print books. Children and parents not being on the same page; imagine that. (Which do you prefer for reading to your kids? Leave your answer in the poll below.)
Researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center will be publishing a complete report on the survey by the end of the summer, but Digital Book World has learned of some of the preliminary results. The researchers would not specify what percentage of parents chose print over other mediums, like e-readers or tablet computers. They would also not yet share any other findings from the survey, which was conducted on Survey Monkey in the early part of 2012.
“We were interested in questions raised by parents around digital reading,” said Lori Takeuchi, director of research at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “The name of the survey was ‘reading books with your child’ so any parents who read books with their kids could take the survey.”
The Center’s interest in the topic stemmed in part from a November New York Times report that suggested parents don’t like reading to their kids digitally because of negative perceptions around screen time for children.
The Times article also spurred Digital Book World to launch an investigation into the topic, resulting in a January report, For Reading and learning, Kids Prefer E-Books to Print Books, in which the preliminary results of Joan Ganz Cooney Center research was revealed on digital reading comprehension and retention in children.
The final results of that study were released today (see charts below).
According to the study conducted in July 2011 and January 2012 among 32 pairs of parents and their three-to-six-year-olds, reading comprehension and reader engagement for children between print books and e-books was similar. However, between print books and enhanced e-books, it was a different story.
While children engaged more actively with enhanced e-books versus print books, their reading comprehension went down. The study found that when enhanced e-books featured interactivity that wasn’t directly tied to the narrative or the text, it distracted both the children and parents from the story and thereby affected comprehension and retention.
“Just to get kids engaged with books, enhanced e-books have their place,” said Cynthia Chiong, the lead researcher on the study. “If they want their children to work on reading skills or vocabulary, they may want to choose an e-book or enhanced e-book that is more literary focused.”
Publishers of children’s enhanced e-books who are concerned about the educational value of their products should try to limit the different kinds of interactivity in a book and try to tie the interactivity as much to the words on the pages as possible, said Takeuchi.
“If kids and parents are focusing on more of the features of the book, then they’re not going to be developing those literacy skills as much,” she said. “It’s not that enhanced e-books shouldn’t include these things, but publishers should be mindful about it.”
For parents, the advice coming out the study is that they should focus on the text and the story when reading with their children.
“It could be more effective for parents to say, ‘hey, let’s read through the story first and then let’s read through it again,’ to experience all of the interactive levels,” said Chiong.
There are certain enhanced e-books that allow parents to turn off some of the interactive elements and parents should consider doing that, added Takeuchi.
The findings of the survey seem to dovetail with the November New York Times report and others that suggest parents are fearful of too much screen time for their children. It’s impossible to know how parents felt about reading digitally with their children two years ago, just as the iPad was coming out, or how they’ll feel about it a year hence. While a majority of parents prefer reading to children with print for now, that could change.
Regardless of the findings of this study and of the upcoming survey report, the researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center see study into children’s e-reading as a moving target.
“We realize this is just a snapshot in time,” said Takeuchi. “Everything is in transition right now. IPads have only been around for a few years and these things will definitely shift.”
Write to Jeremy Greenfield