Tips for Parents

Are Paper Books Better Than Digital Books? 

By Susan Magsamen, SVP Early Learning

This is a question that has no definitive answer but begs for a “pros and cons” analysis. For older students, the benefits of digital books are undeniable. Backpacks are lighter, textbooks are easily updated, and materials can be catered to individual student needs. But what about younger children? Do digital books offer them anything? 

Yes, definitely. Tablet makers and publishers are collaborating on ever more interesting educational products, and digital books come with audio, video, and other interactive features. How much fun is that for a little kid? Watch any preschooler with an iPad in hand, and you’ll know. 

Paper books will always be treasured by young children and their families, though, and this is true for many reasons. Let’s start with cost. If your preschooler loses the family iPad, you’re out about $500. If he loses his favorite copy of Curious George, you’re out a few dollars. What’s more, at the end of the day when story time rolls around, you can cozy up to a paper book more easily than an iPad. Physical books also don’t have batteries that need to be changed, nor do they break when manhandled by over-eager owners. 

Physical books play a significant role in early literacy development, too. Young children get attached to favorite books the same way they get attached to favorite stuffed animals, and, for them, “reading” is an interactive experience. They like to hold the book, flip the pages, and maybe even chew on the corners. In time they will track words on the page, turn pages on cue, and mimic reading when nobody’s looking. It happens more easily with paper books because paper books are more intimate than a screen.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to hold onto physical books is philosophical. It has to do with our need for stillness. In a world that seems to be moving ever faster, our minds crave stillness. Our brains work best, science shows, when given the quiet room to think. We are forever bombarded with content, through ever more clever apps, and always with the possibility of switching to something more entertaining by tapping a screen. But this may not be what we or our children want or need. Leave us in a quiet room with a good book, and we can relax long enough to get lost in a story, and then in our own thoughts.

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