With current educational agenda pushing to sustain a love of literature in children, does the format of this exposure to stories really matter? Rebecca McAllister, Subject Co-ordinator for English in the University of Derby’s Primary Initial Teacher Training, discusses the benefits and practicalities of a digital story time.
In a world that is becoming increasingly busy, it appears as though the bedtime story is one of the biggest victims. The value of books is obvious. For thousands of years, books have been used to share messages, inform and entertain. Learning to read is important and research has continuously proven a connection between good literacy skills and future employability and life satisfaction. Yes, sharing bedtime stories helps children develop their literacy skills but, equally, bedtime stories help shape children emotionally and socially. There are many positives beyond learning to read words that are developed by being read to as a young child. The world is becoming increasingly digital. So why is it still a taboo to read a digital book during story time before bed?
Let’s liken electronic books to cameras. We all love to hold a photo, to put it on display for all to see. However, in reality, very few of us would choose film and processing over an instant digital photo in the palm of our hands. With electronic books, you can read on your phone, tablet and computer. You can access and instantly download hundreds of thousands of texts within seconds. So, imagine your child comes home from school excited about a new book they have been read. With a click of a button, you can bring this joy and passion for literature into reading at home.
So, why not? According to research published in the Guardian in 2018, 21% of parents of three to four-year-olds “don’t feel comfortable in bookshops” and 46% are “overwhelmed” by choice. Additionally, it is widely acknowledged that being the parent of a young child is exhausting, particularly the financial balance of returning to work while trying to provide quality interaction and care at home. Therefore, it could be argued that any story at bedtime is better than no story time. Even if the parent spends some of the time asking children not to touch the buttons, or stop swiping the page over too quickly – aren’t they teaching that child to focus on a story, to listen, to engage and to know when to turn the page appropriately? These are all underestimated stages of development within reading.
Of course, it would be wonderful if every child accessed a real book every day, but the reality is the world has changed and parents are adapting to new ways of doing things. This is even more apparent as the annual Understand the Children’s Book Consumer survey from Nielsen Book Research found that in 2017 only 51% of parents or carers read to preschool children daily.
There, of course, may be barriers. If reading a story on a phone, parents may be bombarded with social media updates or text messages. Solution? Airplane mode during story time. Explain to the child that this is my phone, but at bedtime it is our magical story maker – maybe to turn the magic on we need to turn the rest of the world off.
Choice is still important. There may not be physical books that a child can pick up, but most children are digitally literate enough to select or indicate which story they would like to read. Most of the available e-book apps are good at identifying the type of book you download and suggesting similar books that you may be interested in.
Reading a book is about more than simply reading a story. It is about listening and responding appropriately, learning the structure of the story, guessing what might happen next, enjoying looking at the pictures, recognising that words and print carry a meaning, creating ideas that will help develop imaginative play and simply spending time together. A study by Scholastic (2019) highlighted that parents and children feel that reading together is a special time with each other and that these memories last into adolescence and beyond. Paper or digital, these memories will hold the same significance.