As children prepare for “Back to School” and markers, crayons, and backpacks overtake grocery stores, I am reminded of an article I read recently discussing the impact that tablets and e-readers have in the classroom. My time in grade school came long before the likes of the iPad or the Nook, so my imagination was the only tool I had to make a book magical. Now, kids using tablets and e-readers probably have many of the same books I read but with added features like music and the ability to interact with the story. I started to wonder if these devices are more beneficial to young students or if they are more of a distraction to the task at hand.
With the advent of tablets and e-readers, suddenly unimaginable things were at the my fingertips. All in one device, I can store every novel I have ever loved to create my own virtual library. And while my virtual books don’t come with song and dance, so to speak, it is nice to do something like quickly define a word without anything more than the one device.
Young kids probably aren’t as concerned with the ease with which they can lookup a troubling word as they are with the game-like features, music, animation, coloring, and interaction. Kids are now able to interact with their favorite fairy tales and bedtime stories essentially making them character in the story, which sounds much more tempting than regular old reading. Engaging with a book has suddenly become more like a video game because kids are making choices throughout to book to move forward, which sounds like an excellent incentive to entice kids to read, read, read.
Yet there must be a downside, as there always is. One thing I have personally noticed while reading on my iPad is that, during a particularly uninteresting part of a novel, I find my mind wondering through my to-do list. Next thing I know, I doing online banking, looking for a recipe, or shopping. I’m sure I am not the only distracted virtual reader and am even surer that kids get distracted as well. The article linked above points out that the game-like features can distract kids so much that they aren’t focusing on the heart of the story. Another article points out, “Readers with an e-reader were focused on the device, not the story.”
So it seems, for now, that the jury is still out. The prospect of reading is of course more exciting when you can sing along, become
part of the story, and it feels more like a video game. But there is also the worry that what makes reading with an e-reader so fun, is also what distracts kids from developing necessary literary skills.