Is It Time To Reconsider The Way Our Children Read?

by Shikha Das Shankar and Priyanka Raha ~ Nov 15, 2018

Introducing children to eReading devices and apps does not mean changing traditional reading habits.

DigitalBooks

The muted colors of the local library have invited you with your children joyfully, many times over. That pack-of-five chapter book series was never on any of your Costco shopping lists but always found its way into your children’s bookshelf. And the best steals on children’s books have been the ones you purchased on impulse at the half-price book stores.

Your children love books, and you love watching their little hands flip, scribble and sometimes tear pages of books.

But what if we tell you to sprint, and not walk, to your nearest gadget store to purchase the young reader in your house an eReader device this Christmas? Your home is already a docking station for numerous tech gadgets for you and your children, so why are we suggesting you to add another gadget to your impressive roster of devices?

An eReader is a harmless and easy approach to reading for children. And it does not replace or displace the wonderful reading habits you have worked so hard to establish in your children.

For the sake of clarity, the scope and reach of this article is not limited to eReader devices. It includes the entire range of digital books that can be read on dedicated digital book devices through apps, and reading software and apps that can be installed on a phone, tablet, laptop, PC and Mac.

It is not Books vs Ebooks rather it is coexistence

To accept digital books and eReader devices, parents need a slight mindset change. Just like we did. As moms of grade-schoolers and preschoolers trying to raise readers, we dug in our heels, reluctant to let anything come close to the tangible literary possessions we have accumulated for our children in cozy nooks and corners of our home. We questioned the basic premise of whether eReaders and digital books have any utility in a child’s life. Will introducing digital books snatch the joy of watching a child run his hand on the rows of books on library shelves? It doesn’t have too.

So what changed?

We stopped pitting paper and digital books against each other. We stopped treating it like a debate between the titan of knowledge—paperbound versus new-kid-on-the-block—eReader, where one will dominate the other. Rather we thought on the lines of coexistence of books and digital books, and the complemental role digital books can play in helping children become more proficient and confident readers.

I love my Kindle but what’s in it for my kid?

The first digital book was created way back in 1971 but it wasn’t until the 1990s that they became popular. That was mostly triggered by the availability of digital readers in the market. Then came Amazon Kindle in 2007 which sold out within five and a half hours of its release.

Many found instant love of this device. More devices were launched with time. Phone and tablet versions of digital book apps found popularity, and self-published digital books became a rage. Some switched gears, alternating between digital and paper books while some completely turned to their eReaders for all reading needs.

For even those ardent lovers of paper books, who find immense sensorial satisfaction in flipping pages or all together defacing it with markings and post-its, the ability to carry a mini-library docked with the choicest of books where ever you go, at no extra cargo, became a reason for accepting digital books and eReader devices.

For children as well, the adoption of digital books is not meant to replace paper books or reduce its use in a child’s life. Digital books add to a classroom’s library where space and budget are constraints, encourage reluctant readers, and help engage children constructively when traveling and during school breaks. When you can’t keep up with your voracious reader, who insists on more paper books as presents, digital books are a great option too.

Digital books and eReaders enable children to continue reading on–the-go; allow siblings, classmates and friends to read the same title simultaneous without worrying about shelf space or limited stock; and allow parents and teachers to collaborate with the child on group discussions, book reports and even writing their own version of the story through apps that integrate with digital book apps.

We also undertook research and groundwork to support our views. We reached out to our respective county/district library, namely, King County Library System or KCLS (west Washington) and Broward County Library System or BCLS (southeastern Florida). King is the most populated county in the state of Washington while Broward is the second-most populous in Florida to understand the adoption of digital books. The results were highly encouraging.

Libraries and schools walk the talk

Libraries and schools play an important role in creating knowledgeable, aware and involved youth, and that begins by helping children harbor a love for reading.

Libraries have been actively turning to digital books, working with publishers to acquire more books digitally; providing schools with more digital books and digital reading libraries; and adding more digital titles to the juvenile reading section of the libraries.

In the state of Washington for KCLS alone, we see an interesting trend of the borrowing pattern of patrons. The number of digital downloads including digital books have doubled since 2014 while the number of physical books that people have borrowed have gone down by 11%. As we don’t see more than a 1% rise in total number of items being borrowed, there is a clear shift towards preferring digital books over physical books.

This trend is different when we consider the sales of e-books, which went down by 10% in 2017 from previous year. This follows a similar trend in the UK market as well, where the digital books sales declined by 4% in 2016 while the sales of printed books went up by 7%.

Mr. James Jones, Collection Management Manager, BCLS, says, “We tied up with the Broward County Public Schools about two years ago to offer digital books to children through a digital library service, Axis 360. The app can be installed on a classroom tablet or computer, and children have access to a curated collection of digital books to choose from. They can use Axis 360 with their library membership as well and have access to the entire collection of juvenile digital books at their local library. This initiative was slow to pick up initially but has become more popular now.”   

This partnership provided a way to supplement the existing library collection at schools, where budget and space restrains make it challenging to add new titles in the classrooms. Some of the most popular categories of digital books according to download numbers include Beginner level books–33,955 out of 1,721,193 in circulation; social themes–33,094 out of 801,026 in circulation; humorous stories–22,381 out of 632,538 in circulation; and holidays and celebrations–16,589 out of 399,120.

How do I get my kid started on one and find their fav titles?

Just like you would get a paperbound or board book for your children— through libraries, online retailers, and schools.  

Libraries allow users to downloads multiple digital titles for adults and children. Schools allow students and encourage parents to download the eReaders apps being used in the classroom at home too. This lets the child continue reading where he left off at school and allows parents to see their child’s reading progress.

In the past few years we have also seen the rise of many reading apps for young children. Homer, Epic, Endless Reader and Bob Books Reading Magic are to name a few. These apps provide new ways to promote reading and with the family sharing option they provide a way for parents and kids to consume content together. For example, Epic provides a plethora of books for children to read. Parents or teachers can create an account for the kids to continue reading. The app is available at a monthly subscription model. The music and interactive visuals contribute to a fun learning experience.

Apart from the above children reading apps, the apps of popular eReaders like Kindle eReader, iBooks, B&N eReader, eReader Kobo, and other eReading apps like Wattpad, Stanza, and Google Play Books have been adding more and more children’s titles to their collection too.

Where publishers were once reluctant to release popular titles in the digital version, they are now opening up to the idea. Self-published children’s digital books have a huge following too.

“To prepare the children for the future, we need to provide them the best of both worlds. Introducing digital books through the library and schools ensures they are reading at their level,” says Mr Jones. He also adds that the management at BCLS is big on digital books as they are able to add new titles to the collection without worrying about doing away with old ones. Space is always a problem for libraries and digital books help overcome that problem.

It’s Reading that matters

The future of reading will largely be governed by factors like availability of popular titles for children, ability to provide a device for eReading at home, and overcoming the mental block that screentime for children will increase if we provide them with another gadget, even if it is for reading.

Just like schools adopt eReading apps to offer children as an additional reading resource and not a substitute to the physical books; at home as well, an eReader will encourage reading by providing more titles for your child to choose from while providing reading material according to his reading level.

Whether your child loves the idea of submitting himself behind piles of books, or is keen on finishing reading his favorite series on his tablet, or alternates between the two, at the end of the day it is quality reading that counts.

Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.