eBooks vs. Physical books – which is better for kids?

ebook vs physical book-ipad picAs the digital debate over books rages on, this is one question I’ve pondered about a lot. You may have other opinions, and I hope you’ll share your comments, but here’s what I think.

Digital books (ebooks) are awesome! I love the ability to carry around a hundred different books in my pocket and I especially love the ability to read while lying in bed with all the lights turned off. It’s simply a cool thing to read wherever I happen to be whenever I decide I want to read.


Digital books are not great for kids.

Ok, ok, before you freak out, let me rephrase that.

Digital books are AWESOME for kids! In fact, there are a TON of things digital books can do that promote learning that are fantastic. We are all amazed at the interaction, the pictures, the sound…

BUT (again) digital books are not the BEST for thing for kids.

Here’s why.

1. What do you think your son thinks of FIRST when he sees that iPad lying around. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not books. What is it?


ipad gaming picAll digital devices are first and foremost gaming devices to children – including computers. (LOL, that statement is pretty true of many adults, as well).

When a child sees an iPad laying around, they want to play on it, no matter how many books you have read with/to your child from that device. This is a BIG problem because, as Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook and literacy expert, explains it, children need to see lots and lots of books around the house because it is the very “advertising” of books around the house that helps them become more interested in reading.

If all the books in the home are on a digital device (as many people think we’re trending toward) then a child will never have a bookshelf overflowing with books. The will never SEE the books. You see, a messy room is a GREAT thing when it comes to books. On the other hand, a tidy bookshelf with spines all facing out is a terrible thing because it fails to advertise the books.

Jim even recommends making bookshelves in kids’ rooms with rain gutter material because it’s super cheap, and you can set the books on the shelf with the cover facing out, thereby making a better advertisement for the books. Although I’ve barely touched on it here, the importance of advertising books where your child can see them cannot be overstated.

2. What about your books? Well, that’s problematic because of the same reason mentioned above. One of the best “advertisements” for reading that a child can be exposed to is to see a parent reading and enjoying a book. Again, if your daughter sees the iPad or iPhone in your hands, she isn’t thinking about reading, EVEN if she knows that’s exactly what you are doing!

I’ve been paying attention to this a lot more lately, and I have been amazed how many times my 22 month old comes up to me, points at the bookshelf, and says “eeed?” (which I’m pretty sure means “read?) because I pick up his books and start to read with him and he gets super happy.

Here’s the punchline to that little story, though. He only does it (ONLY) when I am sitting down on the comfy couch and am completely engrossed in MY book. I try to get him to read at other times, but he’s never as interested in it as when I am reading.

I have had to make some hard changes in my life in regards to these discoveries. For the most part, I no longer read books digitally in front of my kids. I am also going out of my way to make sure there are always books in and around my childrens’ rooms, the living room, etc., where they can see the covers. And last, but certainly not least, I am making a concerted effort to read more for my own enjoyment where my kids will see me reading.

So, if you’re a parent of children at home, I encourage you to think about the changes you can make in your life. Raising literate children is not an accident. It is a proactive choice that any parent can make. This is just one of the steps.

Phillip Chipping // Founder
knowonder! publishing

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