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Print or E-books: Which Are Better for Early Learners?

With the growing popularity of electronic readers, parents and preschoolers may be tempted to curl up with one of the devices for story time.

But which is better for helping kids learn to read, print or e-books?

That's one of the questions that the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop set out to discover through a recently released study exploring the differences in the way that parents and young kids interact when reading print, basic e-books, or enhanced e-books together.

The so-called "Quick Study" by the independent research lab involved 32 pairs of parents and kids, ages 3 to 6, who together read a print book and either a basic e-book, which is a digital version of a print book, or an enhanced e-book, which offers interactive media that may include videos and games. Kids were then tested on their story comprehension and parents were interviewed about their reading practices.

Data showed that kids who read the enhanced e-books recalled "significantly fewer" details of the story than those who read the print version. And reading enhanced e-books together provided less of the benefits of reading print or basic e-books because the activity led to less interaction about the story itself. That interaction—of parents asking questions, encouraging kids to relate to a story—can help with preschoolers' language development, the study said.

Researchers found that print and basic e-books are better if parents and educators want to emphasize building literacy skills over just reading for fun. The interactive features of enhanced e-books can distract parents and kids from the story, impacting what kids absorb and the kinds of questions that parents ask.

But when it comes to motivating reluctant readers, enhanced e-readers may entice them in ways that print and basic e-books would not, the study said.

It's a fair certainty that e-books are here to stay, so it's up to parents and educators to determine the role they should play—as it is with all electronic media— in children's lives.

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