Nothing can replace a good old-fashioned book, but maybe digital ones aren't as bad for our kids as we thought, according to new research.

By Melissa Willets
May 02, 2017
Credit: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

As parents, we are always hearing about the importance of limiting kids' screen time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids ages 18 months to 5 years should spend only an hour per day in front of the TV or tablet. And even then, its recommended that parents watch with their little ones.

But now, a new study from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds that perhaps not all screen time is created equal. In fact, when it comes to kids' comprehension, digital storybooks are on par with print books read aloud as a means of delivery.

Researchers, whose findings were presented at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting, looked at 38 kids ages 3 to 4 and how they comprehended four storybooks: two digital, narrated Speakaboo stories that featured animated self-turning pages, and two in print, which were read aloud.

According to the press release, the little bookworms were then asked to name story elements such as setting, characters, event, plot or theme, and story sequence and resolution. Interestingly, researchers noted no significant differences across medium. Children comprehended the content equally well regardless of whether the story was read aloud or was in digital form.

"Although nothing can replace the interactivity that comes from a live read-aloud experience between an adult and child, there are certain features in video that might enhance word learning, especially for children with limited vocabulary," explained Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study's coauthor, in a press release.

The study (which, it's worth noting, was funded by Kindle's parent company, Amazon) flies in the face of previous research that noted a so-called "video deficit" in which kids exhibited a learning difference between engaging in print and digital mediums. So while the findings don't dispute that this can exist in very young children, by preschool it is seemingly no longer a concern.

"It's possible that when it comes to books, we have overestimated the means of delivery and have underestimated the importance of the content conveyed in the media. Although certainly not a substitute for parent-child interactive reading, digital stories from quality media sources may represent an important source of learning for young children," Neuman said.

In the end, no one is suggesting you should increase your child's screen time. But perhaps this research will ease a little of our guilt when we let the iPad read to the kids while we're making dinner or going to the bathroom!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.


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