Does this sound familiar? “Don’t press that button! Hey, stop swiping at the pig. No, it’s not time to do the jigsaw puzzle- we’re meant to be reading a story!” Aghh- the joys of reading a book app!
Two two small-scale research studies* from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (JGCC) confirmed what parents have known for a long time (doesn’t research often do that, just confirm what we know?). The research tells us two important things:
(i) book apps are read by parents and children in distinctly different ways to ‘traditional, print’ books; and
(ii) the design of book apps impacts on children’s comprehension of the story.
Why you need to be wary using book apps with young children-
When book apps have lots of distracting features, parents spend the reading time with children managing the technical aspects of the device (e.g. “Don’t touch that button!”). They become the technical controller. They do NOT discuss the characters and/or the plot. The absence of discussion means that children are not developing language. The two-way discussion between a child and a parent is critical for learning and language development.
Highly animated book apps, with lots of ‘bells and whistles’ impact on children’s comprehension. Children in one of the JGCC studies recalled fewer details after reading ‘enhanced’ eBooks’, as compared to more ‘basic’ and ‘traditional print’ books. It appears that children are focusing on understanding and processing the ‘bells and whistles’ presented on screen and NOT the plot in highly animated books.
One of the many criticisms about book apps is that they inhibit children’s creativity. Some academics and psychologists question if highly animated book apps are in fact a ‘book’ or more like a ‘movie’ where the action is provided for them. What sort of thinking does a child need to do to comprehend a book app where the characters are animated, background mood music is provided and the sound effects crash, ting and boom? A lot of the thinking and visual imagery that a child would normally do ‘in their head’ is done for them. [This is the whole reason why you are often disappointed when you see a movie version of a book that you have read.]
So should you avoid using book apps with children?
Absolutely not! As I often say, the genie is out of the bottle. These technologies will not be un-invented. We need to teach children how to comprehend and make meaning from book apps. This is going to be a learned skill that they need to master over time.
So what do I look for when selecting book apps for children?
Secret Tip 1-
Turn off distracting features. Mute the music. Turn down the volume of the background music. Look for book apps where you can read to your child and not always have the book read to them. Pop Out the Tale of Peter Rabbit has this feature.
Secret Tip 2-
Look for book apps with a very SIMPLE DESIGN. The more basic a book app, the more thinking and creativity a child will need to apply! The more simple the design, the less likely that there will be distracting features for your child to touch (and you to manage).
Secret Tip 3-
Just like children’s toys, I recommend that books be 90% child and 10% book. This formula applies to traditional or book apps. The more thinking and creativity required on the child’s behalf the better.
Secret Tip 4-
Look for book apps where the child activates the animations themselves. Avoid book apps where the animations are automatic. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore allows children to do this.
My top 5 recommendations for children’s book apps with either a simple design OR the capacity to turn off the distracting features are below:
What are your favourite book apps to share with your child? I’d love for you to share some more in the comments below.