Tuesday, January 17, 2012

E-Reading with Young Children

Are e-books as good, better or worse than traditional books? Are they 'bad' for young readers? How can you use them in the classroom or at home with your child... just a few questions I hope to answer in this post!

I was not very impressed with the first e-books I downloaded. While most were ok, they weren't GREAT and certainly not something I would pay for or even read over and over to my children. Yet, when I go to the library, I suppose I could say the same thing- out of the thousands of books available not all are as good as I'd like. Some of my favorite authors- Eric Carle, Jan Brett, Mo Williams, Kevin Henkes, are no brainers- if they wrote it I will probably like it. Other books are more of a risk- maybe I will want to pull my hair out after the second reading.

A good story touches the reader, and/or the illustrations and wording are so beautiful, funny, or poignant you can't seem to read the story too many times. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, No David, and Anne of Green Gables are just a few I love.

No matter how flashy an app book is, if the story is not interesting, the kids won't read it. To find a great ebook, start with a good book! Great e-books have options to read on your own (with the option to hear individual books read aloud by touching the word), listen to a narrator, and even record a loved one reading the book. Great e-books should have animations and sound effects that enhance the story. I think e-readers will be especially helpful to children learning a second language. One of my daughters beloved stories is the Little Red Hen. She likes the version told in Spanisn/English for the iPad. One of the best features of an ebook I have seen is in the Monster at the End of the Book story starring Grover. It has a little pop up for parents with suggestions on questions to ask your child to help with comprehension and enjoyment. On the home page there is a parent article with information on talking with your child about fears. The activities are completely related to the original idea of the book- Grover attempting to keep the reader from turning the page. For $3.99 the app is adorable, funny and true to the original story while adding some fabulous and fun features.

When I saw the board books by Sandra Boynton were being made into apps for the iPad I couldn't resist and I bought one. The Going to Bed Book has been a favorite story of mine to read to children for a over decade. I am sure I have a copy of it SOMEWHERE but I wanted to read it right then to my daughter. The price was reasonable (currently $3.99) and my card had some $$$ on it.
Am I glad I did- this book is a wonderful example of an interactive story for children while retaining the simple humor and beautiful prose. The animations and interaction options do not detract from the story, rather they enhance it. The background music is peaceful (and has an easy volume control on the opening page of the app). The narrator reads in a soothing voice.

What makes the book BETTER than the original board book is the way the animations and sound effects enhance the story, build vocabulary and help children understand concepts. The porthole shuts with a metal clunk, the sink squeaks on and steam fogs the screen- your child can even write their name in the steam. The boat sways on the water when you tilt the iPad/iPod and even the view of the water seen through the portholes tilt too. You can read this to a child in the SAME way as a board book-chose I want to read it myself- so it's certainly just as good as a book (it even uses a page turning motion). However, when your child wants to read independently they can- and they will. They can read to themselves, touch a word for help, or listen to the story. This book will draw them in, night after night. It helps that I like to read it too!

Another ebook that my children (and I) enjoy is Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure. The book was $4.99 upon last check, and I believe I got to download it while it was free. I have no problem paying for a book- especially since it can't get wet or ripped and I won't have to add it to the overflowing bookshelves in my house. It's also nice that I can pull it out wherever I am- because where I go my device goes. My kids like the story and illustrations and I like the features. You can read it in book mode on your own, the narrator can read it in playback mode (and it's easy to pause so you can discuss the story too), or you can even record yourself (or your child) reading it and play that back. While having the app read the story it highlights the word being read.

I will try to add more of my favorite e-books on here tomorrow and finish answering some of the questions I started with!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

E-readers, e-books, book apps, and The Big Bad Wolf

As previously mentioned, I use Twitter as a resource for professional development, staying current with news and parenting related issues.  Sometimes I read the statements made and skip the article, and the impression is made, regardless of whether I have the whole story.  This tweet caught my attention over Christmas break. 

“@timeoutdad: Why Books Are Better than e-Books for Children: http://t.co/Vu31lxog #edchat #kinderchat #ptchat #dadstalking”


I love books. Since the fourth grade some of my best friends have been characters from novels, children's books, and historical literature.  My Masters is in Reading and Literacy and my Board Certification is in Early Childhood. I love technology. Since middle school when I dialed up and connected to the world I have embraced all the convienences and wonder of technological toys.  

So the question of which is better, ebooks or good old print books has been on my mind a lot.  As a reader.  As a mother. As a teacher.  I have hundreds (probably at least a thousand) of childrens books.  I have stacks and boxes of books for me.  And I have debated the idea within since I loaded my first book onto my iPad, and before that, the cd-roms onto my first classroom computer containing Dr Seuss and Little Critter books.  Is an e-book better, the same, or worse for children (and, by extension adults)?

My first thought on reading this (because I am a bit naive and trusting of those doing research, with PhD's, or published in the Times) was well, shoot, I've been messing up my daughter (who LOVES ebooks) and my students too.

Then when I reread the article I became a little fired up and a rant rose up within me!

So as not to let my professional opinion be misunderstood, let me be clear.  I want what is best for children.  If research shows ereaders are BAD or 'impede' learning when compared to regular print I will delete every book on my iPads.  After reading these blogs/articles though, I think the title of the article and the research it is based on are misleading.

One article rated parent child interactions "When watching Scholastic books on video".... Did you read that? They were WATCHING a video and the author of the article compared ereaders to a video.  I have the scholastic videos. I like them.  If I chose to show one in my classroom during instructional time I do pause it and discuss the video with the kids.  At home, though, it's a movie and I WATCH it with my kids.  Cardinal rule in my house- do NOT talk during a movie.

E-readers are NOT movies.  Or, at least they SHOULDN'T be. Just like some apps are duds, some ebooks should not count as books.  Scholastic books made into movies are NOT a book.  They are a video.  Watching Twilight is not the same as reading the novel, and certainly your vocabulary and understanding of character motivation won't be the same either.  

The other article that referenced research was done several YEARS ago, before the iPad was made, and other portable touch devices went mainstream.  It said parents were more concerned with how their child handled the device and with navigating the story.  Tablets are pretty indestructible now and frankly most 4 year olds (and my daughter when she was 2) can navigate the iPad more fluently than most adults.  

I was shocked when the author of the article said she didn't read on ereaders because she wants her child to see her 'reading'.  My 3 year old sees no disctinction between her digital books or traditional books.  She sees me reading with my Kindle app and with traditional books and says 'Can I read with you mommy?'.  Then she gets a book or ebook and reads along with me or asks me about the book I am reading.  Whether you read a newspaper, a magazine, a novel, an ebook or an encyclapedia- modeling reading is modeling reading.  

So, while I think that these articles certainly remind us that parents need guidence on reading with their children (with BOTH traditional books and ebooks) I wholeheartedly disaggree with their 'findings.'  Ebooks are just like print books- the quality depends on the author and the learning your child takes away from it depends on their interactions with the book and the person reading with them.

Ranting aside, my next blog post will be about GOOD ebooks... the ones that are even BETTER than their print copy, just as good, or better than not reading at all.  I will also share how I use them in my classroom.

For now though, my 3 year old thinks you should read The Monster at the End of This Book.   I've read the app version and the golden book version- both are excellent.  She prefers the app.  I love that she reads it with me, I read it to her, and she can listen to the story when I am making dinner.  So, go.  Read a book.  Until the research is relevant, current and a little less biased I say read in any way that you enjoy, or that encourages a love of literature.  




Monday, January 2, 2012

I'm floating away in a Word Cloud...

Have you used http://www.Wordle.net  or http://www.tagxedo.com/ or http://tagul.com/? if you haven't seen or heard of a word cloud before below is one that I made using Wordle simply by typing in my blog's web address.  Teachers in my building have students make them by typing in their favorite things.  The more you type a particular word, the bigger it becomes (wouldn't it be a great way to teach topic?).  I may use it in class for kids to share their "I like" lists, or what they got for Christmas, or what they did on the weekend.  

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