I’ve spent a lot of time watching my three- and five-year-old daughters explore, play, and read on an iPad. While touch-screen devices are wonderful in many ways, they do a really lousy job in one particular area: deeply engaging kids in narrative. Interactivity is stopping children from falling in love with stories. This, I fear, will have long-term consequences, depriving children of one of the most important benefits of reading for pleasure, the essential inner work of imagination and empathy.
The trouble with tablets
More children now read on electronic devices than read physical books according to a recent survey of nearly 35,000 8- to 16-year-olds conducted by the UK’s National Literacy Trust. But screens don’t seem to be improving their experience of reading. Children who read only on-screen are three times less likely to enjoy reading (12 percent vs. 51 percent) and a third less likely to have a favorite book (59 percent vs. 77 percent). Other key findings:
- 15.5 percent of kids who read daily, but only on-screen, are above average readers.
- 26 percent of those who read daily in print, or both in print and on-screen, read at an above average level.
So why don’t tablets enhance the experience of reading? Most children will not fall in love with reading as quickly as they will get hooked on an interactive game. A touch-screen device makes it all too easy for a child to dismiss reading as boring or “flat” in comparison with the instant gratification of games and apps. There are simply too many distractions just a click away. Children are most likely to engage with stories in the right environment and context, and that means away from a screen.
Interactive stories are designed for young children who may still need guided reading, but that interactivity often creates more of a game experience than a reading experience. Instead of being the focus, the story becomes merely a background.