Screen Time vs. Storytime: Rethinking eBooks

WHEN IT COMES to early literacy, do e-books provide the same levels of quality reading and family time as their print counterparts? Or, should they be considered additional screen time, to be limited before young eyes? In his New York Times piece, “Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?,” writer Douglas Quenquaoct explores these questions.

Screen Time vs. Storytime: Rethinking eBooksAs Quenquaoct points out, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced in June a policy recommendation for doctors that calls for informing parents about the developmental benefits of reading. At the same time, Quenquaoct writes, “the academy strongly recommends no screen time for children under 2, and less than two hours a day for older children.”

Another study, “Once Upon a Time: Parent–Child Dialogue and Storybook Reading in the Electronic Era,” shows that early experience with books is reflected in reading successes.  Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is a co-author of this study — she will also be the keynote speaker at the 2015 PJ Library Conference in April.

In his article, Quenquaoct quotes Hirsch-Pasek as saying, “What we’re really after in reading to our children is behavior that sparks a conversation,” adding, “But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”

Meanwhile, a 2012 Pew Research Center study, “Internet & American Life Library Services Survey” found even tech-savvy families valued reading print books.

Digital media isn’t all bad. In fact, it can present a near-bottomless resource for Jewish families looking for informative and entertaining content. The key, it seems, is moderation.

A 2014 research study led by Dr. Robert Pressman of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology and supported by the Good Parent Foundation, a non-profit foundation, found that after an average 45 minutes of media (screen time), children demonstrated in a decline in school performance, sleep quality, social skills, and emotional balance.

According to the research, entitled “The Learning Habit Studies,” the “safe zone” in media consumption for children was calculated at 45 minutes. The “danger zone” — exemplified, in part, by a half-point drop in GPA — occurred just before hours. “After four hours of accumulated screen time, the GPA of children dropped slightly more than a full point,” the researchers write.

To meet the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that families read to young children in an effort to promote development while also limiting media screen time, PJ Library is a proponent of beautifully illustrated children’s books.

As explained in the PJ Library blogpost, “The Whys and Hows of Reading Aloud to Children,” reading books aloud to children is “vital for their development.”

For families raising Jewish children, the PJ Library program presents a golden opportunity — the chance to build a collection of high-quality, printed children’s literature for family reading. If you know of a family who could use printed children’s books, tell them about the PJ Library program.  

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