Should reading be digital when it comes to kids?
4 minutes

Photos taken in collaboration with Kerry Cheah, featuring one of our ParentWise families

Electronic reading devices, once targeted primarily at adults, have now gained a younger audience among children. With the proliferation of electronic devices in homes, parents these days have a wide range of options when choosing books for their children.

E-books may appear to be a more attractive option for children because they come with sounds, animation and games – but are they really a better option?


Research has shown that there is a real difference in interactions when parents read to their toddlers with a tablet instead of a printed book. Surprisingly, toddlers were less interested, less engaged and more likely to turn away when reading on an electronic device.


of 37 pairs of parents and their two or three-year-old children showed that parents asked their children more open-ended questions to get their opinions on the story or what might happen next when reading printed books compared to e-books.

These parents also put stories into context by relating the material to the child’s own experiences. Toddlers also talked more when reading printed books, possibly because the parents interacted more with them.

Essentially, printed books encouraged greater face-to-face interaction between parents and children compared to e-books.

When reading printed books, parents would look their children in the eyes while talking about what they both were seeing and experiencing in the book. This type of engagement helps the child to not only build attention and language skills but also how they can relate to the world.

Toddlers were less interested, less engaged and more likely to turn away when reading on an electronic device.

On the other hand, e-books can be a distraction because parents spend more time talking about the device itself, rather than the story.

It’s hard to say why children are more engaged with printed books over e-books. One possible reason is because they are tactile and prefer to hold and touch a book rather than tap or swipe at a tablet.

Language Development & Communication
Promoting Emergent Literacy
Core Finding: LD-LIT-C03

A study by Munzer et al (2019) found that parents and toddlers interact more when reading print books vs e-books. The study concluded that paediatricians should help parents understand that enhancements often found in electronic books will not help child development as much as enhancements provided by parental interaction.


In light of what research has shown, printed books are a better choice as they allow for greater engagement between caregivers and children, which is important to a child’s growth.

According to the Harvard Center on the Development Child, it is the “serve and return” or back-and-forth between the child and caregiver that builds neural connections and supports the development of communication and social skills.

You may think that interaction between you and your child does not need to take place over reading. Indeed, you can practise “serving and returning" during routine caregiving and interactive play.

However, reading books with your child is an activity that benefits the both of you immensely – as they learn about the world, and you learn about them. Preferably over a printed book.

Have a story on deciding between printed books and e-books to share? Send it to us here.

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