A recent survey of 32 parents of children ages 3 to 6 found that although young children remembered more details in stories read from print books, comprehension was the same for print-books and e-books.

The study, conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, also found that while the multimedia features of enhanced e-books more easily grabbed children’s attention, those features also made it harder for the youngsters to focus on the story.

The study also found that the majority of parent-child pairs were as engaged by print books as they were by the enhanced and basic e-books.

Print or e-books? Adults grapple with which is the best way to read — not only for themselves, but especially when it comes to their kids. Whether or not parents prefer print books over interactive e-books for their kids, the question is, what’s actually better for them?

Depends on what you’re trying to achieve. According to a study of a small group of parents released today by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, kids age 3 to 6 remembered more narrative details — “What happened in the story?” — from print books than from enhanced e-books with multimedia features.

But when kids were asked one plot question for each story, (i.e., “Why did x do y?”), there was nodifference between the print book readers and the enhanced e-book readers.

“I would definitely make the distinction that the platform affected recall instead of comprehension,” said Cynthia Chiong, the lead author of the survey conducted at New York Hall of Science’s Preschool Place.

The study, the first of its kind to qualify the difference between basic and enhanced e-readers versus print books, examined 32 pairs of parents and their 3–6-year-old children as they read a print book and an e-book together. Half of the pairs read a basic e-book and the other half read an enhanced e-book.

Researchers found that while the multimedia features of enhanced e-books grabbed children’s attention, those same features also distracted young readers and led more to “non-content related interactions.”

Features like animation, sound effects, videos, and games made it more difficult for some parents to keep kids focused on reading and diminished kids’ recall of the text. Parents continually had to tell kids not to turn the page or not to touch the tablets, according to Chiong.

The implication? Parents and teachers should choose basic e-books like the Kindle or Nook over enhanced e-books, such as the iPad, if they want a more literacy-focused co-reading experience with children.

Prompting kids with questions that relate to the text, labeling and naming objects, and encouraging kids to talk about the book’s content from their own perspective all elicit kids to be more verbal, and can lead to improved vocabulary and language development, the study states.

But if “engagement” is the objective, the issue gets murkier. When it came time to measuring “child-book” engagement, based on the child’s direct attention and touch, more kids showed higher levels of engagement for the e-books than the print books, though a majority were equally engaged by both book types.

Children also physically interacted with the enhanced e-book more than when reading either the print or basic e-book.

On the other hand, when measuring “overall engagement” —a composite of parent-child interaction, child-book interaction, parent-book interaction, and signs of enjoyment — an interesting trend emerged: 63% of the parent-child pairs were as engaged reading the print book as they were when reading the e-book (both types); 6% of the pairs were more engaged with the e-book than the print book, compared to the 31% of pairs that were more engaged with the print book than the e-book.

“Kids loved the enhanced e-books,” Chiong said. “It was great to see the level of engagement, how much they were enjoying it — and that’s one of our goals as parents, is engaging kids. If this can do that, especially in kids who might not otherwise be interested, it’s perfect.”

Chiong added that this study focused on younger kids — questions and priorities will be different for measuring the differences for older readers.

Thanks to Tina Barseghian for the information provided in this article at Mind/Shift.

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