New study shows it’s content that matters for preschoolers’ learning
If the story’s good, it doesn’t matter how your kids hear it.
It’s the content of the book, not whether it’s a print or digital, that predicts how well children understand the story, according to a new study by the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development that looked at digital and print stories presented to three- and four-year olds.
“It’s possible that when it comes to books, we have overestimated the means of delivery and have underestimated the importance of the content conveyed in the media. Although certainly not a substitute for parent-child interactive reading, digital stories from quality media sources may represent an important source of learning for young children,” says Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s coauthor. The study was funded by Amazon, which sells both print and digital books.
The NYU researchers had 38 preschoolers listen to two digital stories and two print books read aloud by an adult. The digital stories, presented on a tablet, were from Speakaboos, which offers interactive stories targeted to preschoolers and kindergartners; the stories have animated characters, pages that automatically turn and text that lights up as the story is read. The print stories were adapted versions of the digital stories.
After hearing the stories, the kids were asked questions related to story comprehension, setting, characters, plot vocabulary and more. There was no significant difference in learning whether the kids saw the story on a tablet or heard it read from an adult. “What was most striking in our findings were the similarities, not the contrasts, in children’s responses to the medium of instruction,” said Kevin M. Wong, a doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhart and the study’s coauthor.
Kids did have differences in comprehension between stories, with children understanding some of the stories much less than they did others. “This suggests that neither medium was able to bolster children’s comprehension when the story was perceived to be difficult or not motivating, and it is the content of the book rather than its form that influenced story comprehension,” the study concluded.
Some other research shows that kids can learn from educational tablet apps, though parents should be careful about how much screen time they give their kids, even if it’s educational. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these limits on screen time.
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