If you are like me, a mother trying to encourage the love of reading in her son, then you can relate to the question above. A lot of bibliophiles (including myself) are convinced that the printed book trumps the e-book, anytime. Sometimes, it is backed by data, and sometimes, just by the fact that we have a tender spot for the printed book. As an object, a book is a great example of good design mixing form and function. But other bibliophiles have a good case when they say e-books are more convenient, in terms of cost and mobility. Design-wise, ebooks are bad in form (causes eye strain, clunky, impersonal), but well, they do execute the function just as well, right?
Imagine my surprise when I decided to research this further and learned this issue is not as black and white as I thought it was. I learned that different areas of our brain is stimulated depending on whether we are reading paper or plasma, and there are benefits in stimulating both! Here’s a rundown for you.
Team Print Books
If your child is very young, Print Books are the best way to go. Picture books just do not translate as beautifully in digital form.
Development-wise, interactive ebooks being marketed as “learning tools” could actually hamper a child’s reading concentration. All the moving characters popping here and there unsurprisingly distracts them from the narrative.
More importantly, studies show that young children need to practice “linear” and “deep” reading where they focus on the printed page word per word, paragraph by paragraph. This helps them grasp thought and concept better, as well as boost retention of the succession of events in the plot. This is true for adults too ---- me, I still prefer reading reports in the printed form instead of on my laptop, especially if it’s filled with too many jargons that really needs time to digest.
But if you are parent to a reluctant school-aged reader, E-books have been found to encourage them to read more. The platform is familiar to them since they are adept with tablets and laptops already. They can also physically manipulate the ebook according to their preferences, including adjusting font types and sizes. If a story is made interactive, this can also help a child become more engaged with the story, improving the chances that they will want to read another one.
E-books, due to its accessibility features of enlarging text and spaces in between lines, is also a big help to the visually impaired and dyslexic.
When we read ebooks, children and adults alike, our brain activates our “non-linear” reading. Observe how you read an ebook one time, and check how many times your eyes skim over the lines or how your eyes wander around the webpage. It’s the same way we read our Facebook page, or our Twitter feed. This however, is not helpful for us to do “Deep Reading” which is connected to memory retention and analysis.
Luckily, we don’t have to choose a side. Our brain is really just that amazing that it can handle both ways of reading. This is what we call the “bi-literate” brain. However, we must be conscious that we are not giving too much emphasis on non-linear reading alone such as when reading your Kindle. As a parent, we need to exercise our child’s deep reading capacity, and the best way to do that is to put a physical book in their hands.
And on a personal note, I really think that the end goal is to get our child to keep reading. This is what helps them expand their world, live vicariously which can inform their decisions and build their character. Print or Ebook --- what matters are the words. As a parent, my goal is to study how my child responds to either medium, with special care to note which one helps him retain more lessons. So although I am biased for print, I will not hesitate to engage his love for stories through digital media as well.