Lab Notes #11: What Toddlers Talk About When They Talk About Books

Digital headlines across the country announced that toddlers regard print books as more interactive than e-books. Toddlers are taking the news in stride, while pediatricians hope their parents are paying attention. 

University of Michigan researchers assigned parent-toddler pairs to read electronic books and print books, to study the verbal and nonverbal interaction that accompanied each format. Using video recordings of lab-based storytime, researchers coded bits of speech for each participant, as well as positive affect and collaborative book reading. 

“When the researchers observed children and parents interacting with a regular, soft-bound book,” said Gregory P.Weaver, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic, “there was much more interaction between parents and children.” Dr. Weaver did not take part in the study, which appears in the April 2019 issue of Pediatrics.

Toddlers were more chatty about the book itself (and more chatty overall), and also produced higher collaboration scores during the print-book reading. Parents, too, scored higher with print books: they engaged in more dialogue with their children, and read aloud the text of the story more frequently, too. Parents also tallied fewer comments about the format itself with print-based books, which may indicate that parents and children found the analog format to call less attention to itself and, in turn, to be more immersive. 

In a commentary in the same issue, Suzy Tomopoulos, Perri Klass, and Alan L. Mendelsohn note the significance of parenting during the infant-toddler period: “Parents can support cognitive, language, and social-emotional development … through positive parenting activities, such as reading aloud and playing together.” They also note the democratizing potential for tablets and electronic readers to increase access to children’s literature, in multiple languages, at affordable rates for low-income families in the U.S. and elsewhere. Plenty, though, appears to be lost in translation from paper to pixels. 

The act of reading a print book promotes back and forth discussion between parent and child, which is a key cornerstone of learning, according to Dr. Weaver. By reading out loud to our children, we demonstrate that we love to read, too. “Children learn to read, and develop a love of reading,” Dr. Weaver said, “with their teachers and probably the most important teacher that’s in their life, which is their parent.”

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Primary Source:
Pediatrics
Source reference: T Munzer et al., “Differences in Parent-Toddler Interactions With Electronic Versus Print Books,” Pediatrics, 143: 4.
https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/143/4/e20182012