Should You Buy Your Child The New Kindle For Kids?
Twelve years ago, Amazon revolutionised reading with the Kindle e-reader, allowing users to easily download books straight to their devices and enjoy them without backlight or sunlight glare, all thanks to e-ink. Last week, the company made waves by announcing the Kindle Kids Edition—the first ever e-reader aimed at children—to be released on October 30, currently available for pre-order.
This special version of the tenth edition Kindle comes with a fun, colourful case, a two-year guarantee, and one year of complimentary access to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited service, which offers around 20,000 kid-friendly books. Other child-specific features include Word Wise, which automatically presents simpler definitions for difficult words, and Vocabulary Builder, which converts looked-up words into flash cards that can be referenced later.
However, as technology becomes more integrated into our lives, concerns about the effects of electronic devices on children abound. A recent study conducted by American medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, for instance, revealed that too much screen time can have negative effects on communication, problem solving, and social skills in younger children.
So while a Kindle for Kids might prove to be an excellent source for entertainment and tool for improving language skills for an older child, is a Kindle good for younger kids?
Bonding Over Books
"I think the main question is what a Kindle can and cannot offer compared to real books given the developmental stage of the child,” says Florrie Ng, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of educational psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong whose research areas include parenting and early childhood development.
In addition to improving literacy, the act of reading provides opportunities for a child to develop social skills and bond with others. In this area, physical books might be the better choice over e-readers.
"There are small group studies which state that less interaction occurs when parents share an e-book with their child as opposed to a print book," says Julie Giles, assistant director of the development and learning programme at the Child Development Centre in Hong Kong, a specialised centre for education, therapy and assessment for children.
"Consider also the other nurturing and social effects of a parent and child cuddling together with a real book, or a teacher reading at story time," Giles says. "Observations have shown that when parents interact with a child with an e-book, the interaction is more about controlling what to do with the device rather than talking about the plot and characters."
"It is easier for parents and young kids to share a real book, given the size of electronic devices and constraints on viewing angles," Ng says. "By the same token, real books are more likely to invite social interactions from peers."
Analog vs. Digital
Physical books are also simply easier for younger children to use. "Real books are much easier to hold and manipulate," Ng says. "One does not have to consciously learn which button to press or where to put one's finger. Often times, parents—or children themselves—may want to turn to previous pages to understand similarities or differences between different objects or characters, or be reminded of the causes of an event in a story. It is just much easier to do that with real books."
Giles agrees: "With real books, it's easier to flick back and find something you’re looking for. There is also a more active hands on, sensory experience."
Finally, parents should consider the potential effects of more screen time on their children. Although reading is an educational activity that helps a child learn and develop their language skills, an e-reader is still a screen.
"Recent WHO [World Health Organisation] guidelines state that children under 2-years-old should not be exposed to any screens at all," Giles says. "For children aged 2 to 5, an hour or less is suggested. The guidelines are tied up with advice on sleep, physical activity and obesity—extended screen time effects all of these. The other big question is screen addiction, but it’s still an unknown as to whether the use of e-readers would contribute to that."
At the same time, Giles acknowledges that e-readers might possess added functionality that improve reading skills. "There seem to be early studies that suggest e-readers can boost early literacy skills through functions that highlight words children sound out or define words they struggle with—this can be rewarding and motivating."
And on the other hand, words on a screen are still a better option for your child than, say, videos or games. "Compared to printed words, videos are more likely to be overstimulating to kids," Ng says. "But in general, the younger children are, the less suitable e-books are for them. I would say children in pre-school and kindergarten should read real books."