I have believed, since my daughter was small, that it's just better for her developmentally to read books in print, rather than onscreen. Sure, we had a couple of storybook-themed apps that she played with when she was younger (Jack and the Beanstalk, e.g.), but that was play time, not reading time. When I read to her (which was often), I read her print books. For picture books, in particular, I felt (and still feel) that print books provide a much better read together experience.
Now that she's older (eight) there are arguments for letting her read books on a Kindle. I actually have an old one that she could use, and I own digital copies of a bunch of children's books. There's the portability argument for when we are traveling. I actually did set up and bring that old Kindle on a family trip this summer, just in case, but she didn't use it. There's also the ability to look up the meaning of words quickly and easily on a device. But usually I'm nearby and she can just ask me, which is even quicker.
The truth is that it's just been my gut instinct that it's better for her to learn to love reading in the context of print books. She has her whole life to get more screen time in. And the fact that she mostly likes heavily illustrated books just reinforces the choice of print, for most titles. So that's that. Not very controversial. I know many parents who feel this way.
What I didn't expect was that my daughter would start hounding ME to do more of my reading from print books, rather than screens. It started with her reading one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (probably it was #10: Old School, but I am not sure) and saying something like: "It says here that it's better for you to read books in print instead of on a screen." I agreed, and we talked about that.
Then (you knew this was coming) she started asking me why I do so much of my reading on a Kindle instead of reading print books. I tried to explain that I use a dedicated Paperwhite, rather than reading on a full-fledged tablet computer, so that I don't have distractions, and that the eInk screen isn't as disruptive as other screens when I'm reading at night, etc. That I take the lightweight Paperwhite everywhere so that I can read if I have a spare moment, and so on. She did not buy any of it.
Ever since, she's been nagging me about this whenever the opportunity arises. One day I made a point of locking the car even though we would only be gone for a couple of minutes. I said that my Kindle was in the car and that I didn't want it to get stolen. Her response was along the lines of: "Well, if your Kindle got stolen then you would have to read some real books for a change, and that would actually be good."
The truth is, she might be right. I read an article by Maryanne Wolf that talked about the impact on our brains of replacing "deep reading" with various forms of screen reading that gave me pause. Wolf talks about how digital reading is associated with more skimming, and hence lower reading comprehension. I haven't read Wolf's book on this topic: Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in the Digital World. I also talked recently with a friend who noted how much more throughly he reads the print newspaper vs. when he's reading in the app. I've noticed this myself with magazine that I get in print, but can read sooner in the app version.
Then there's the fact that even if this isn't true (that the format of reading matters for adults), it does matter for what message I'm sending to my daughter. When she sees me reading a print book she KNOWS that I'm reading. When she sees me reading from a screen, even when it's my book-dedicated Kindle, she's just less sure. And I do want to model reading for her. It's one of the things as a parent that I am best at.
I won't be giving up Kindle. I love the immediacy of being able to download the sequel the instant that I finish a mystery. I love being able to upload all my highlights to my computer when I'm reading nonfiction. I love always having several books that I want to read with me, especially when I'm traveling. I appreciate not having quite so many print books piling up (if you saw my house, you would understand). I value being able to set the Kindle on the arm of the sofa next to my exercise bike and tap with one finger to turn the pages (in a way that doesn't work at all with print books). I need these things, to varying degrees.
However, I have started to think carefully before I make any book purchases, to see if it might be better in this case to get it in print, or from the library. Maybe my husband will want to read it, too. Maybe I'll want to keep it on the bookshelf. Maybe I want my daughter to see me reading this book. And so on.
One recent case was the book I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. I read the sample on my Kindle and was tempted to just order it. But one of the reviews specially talked about what an appealing little book it was in hardcover, just the right size to hold. Certainly it passed the test of a book that would make me happy to have my daughter see me reading it. So I delayed my gratification for a couple of days and ordered the print copy. I'm so glad that I did. I've been keeping the book on my nightstand and reading an essay or two each night. I love the physicality of the book. I give it a little pat on the cover when I'm done for the day. I appreciate this particular book more in print.
This is all a bit of a work in progress. My daughter also wants me to spend less time on my phone and computer. But that's a topic for another post. But for now it's enough to share that she is expressing a very clear anti-device-reading message to me, and that I am listening. Thanks for reading!
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