Is it better to use real books instead of e-books when reading to young children?

Study suggests reading with real books is more advantageous for children

Best way to read with your children

DETROIT – About 25% of all American families own e-readers and about 75% have electronic tablets that can download books and magazines. But are e-books the best way for young children to learn to read?

Local 4's Kimberly Gill has been thinking about this issue since her son, Basil, was born. She loves technology and often reads on her iPad. But she started wondering about whether it's OK to read to Basil using an e-reader, or if having physical books is better.

Researchers at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital did a study on the topic.

Dr. Tiffany Munzer is a pediatrician at the hospital. She has a 2-year-old daughter and knows the importance of reading to children.

"We try to encourage reading by taking her to the library early and often and just kind of letting her pick out the books herself," Munzer said.

In today's world there's no need to go to the library because technology has made it so easy to download books in seconds. But is it OK for children to read using the electronic format?

Munzer and her colleagues at the hospital studied a group of 2-year-olds and their parents to learn more about their interactions during print and e-book reading.

"For kids themselves, though, especially kids in their toddler years, we did find that it was a little bit harder for them to engage with their parent when they were reading off the tablet, compared to a physical print book," Munzer said. "For a couple of different reasons, we thought the actual tablet itself had some features that might be distracting to toddlers."

Researchers found with e-books, families tended to converse less and focus more on the technology instead.

"With the tablet, they often were kind of talking and having a dialogue around just physical parts of the book, like tap that or swipe that, instead of relating it back to the child's experience," Munzer said.

Researchers said with print books, parents made more connections between the book and real life.

"Parents were saying things, like, 'Remember that time we went to the zoo together?'" Munzer said.

She said if parents use e-books with young children, treat the table like a print book. Ask the children questions about the story and carry on a back-and-forth conversation. Those strategies help build early literacy skills.

"Parents are so much better than any piece of technology," Munzer said. "They just know their kid so well, and so they're able to tailor that book experience to exactly what they feel their children's interests are, and that's not something that a tablet or any kind of machine can do."

Munzer said previous research involved preschool-aged children and suggested print books provided more of what's called "dialogic reading" than e-books. The new research indicates the effect is the same with even younger children.

About the Authors:

You can watch Kimberly Gill weekdays anchoring Local 4 News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and streaming live at 10 p.m. on Local 4+. She's an award-winning journalist who finally called Detroit home in 2014. Kim has won Regional Emmy Awards, and was part of the team that won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 2022.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.