Are eBooks Okay for Small Children?

Last Updated Dec 28, 2010 10:01 PM EST

I was pretty lucky this holiday and received a coveted iPad. But before I even got the thing out of its box, my older daughter started reaching for it. Like every other kid, she loves a good device and wasn't about to let me have this one to myself. So I started thinking about how we could use my gift in an educational way.

I know there are plenty of apps out there that appeal to children. Publicists have kindly reminded me that there are ones about everything from dinosaurs (Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever) to music (Virtuoso Piano). There's even the classic game Where's Waldo.

As great as all of these apps probably are, I'm most excited about the interactive books I can download and read with my kids. There's just one potential problem: My little ones are quite small and can't actually read on their own yet. So I decided to call Peggy McNamara, chair of general teacher education at Bank Street College of Education, for her opinion on eBooks and young children. I figured if anyone knew a reason why parents shouldn't embrace 21st century technology it would be her.

I have to admit I was pretty sure McNamara was going to accuse me of poor parenting by even suggesting that I use my iPad (or any other eBook reader) as a tool for reading with my children. But much to my surprise, she had no problem with kids interacting with electronic stories provided parents follow a few rules.

The Rules
First, McNamara stresses that an eBook (or app) should not become an electronic babysitter. You should be present and interact with your child when he uses your iPad, Nook or Kindle.

Next, if the book gives parents the option to read the story themselves or have the app do the talking, choose the former. If the eBook only has an audible version, you can always turn the volume down and read it yourself.

Finally, eBooks are not a replacement for good old fashioned picture books. These should still be read daily. The electronic ones are simply another tool parents can use, McNamara says.

With McNamara's encouragement, I just downloaded my first eBook, Sesame Street's The Monster at the End of This Book. My daughter will no doubt be enthralled with this app. It's really quite cool. I have a feeling, however, she'll get so caught up in the video-like quality that she won't focus on the written words at all. So for me, I'll probably embrace eBooks like these when my daughter would otherwise play video games. (Yes, I admit it happens.) But I'll still make sure our evening reading time is made up of old fashioned picture books.

Do you read eBooks with your kids?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
iPad_Home_Screen image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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