Why Not Have It All? Sharing Good Apps and Good Books

The debate around young children using technology or ‘screen time’ sits in two very separate camps. One heralding the transformative power of technologies, with academic research indicating the ways in which digital technologies can positively affect children’s learning and social skills; the other believing that digital devices distract from more wholesome activities such as reading and play, and cause potential ‘digital addiction’ among children.

One thing we know for sure is that book sharing in the formative years is crucial, and with the growth of digital there is new potential to share these benefits digitally. So does the format really make a difference?

Speaking at our Bookbug conference, Andrew Manches, a Learning Scientist from The University of Edinburgh discussed the benefits of different formats:

It depends very much on how it's used and obviously, the adult plays a big role. Yes, if you leave a child with a piece of digital technology and come back later that's very, very different than sitting down with the child and talking and using the digital technology as a base to think and talk about different ideas.

Equally, you can give a child a book but if they are not interacting with a parent or adult, and sharing that experience, it won’t have nearly the same impact. But, there isn’t a lot of danger in leaving a child with a book on its own, is there? Leaving a child to play with a digital device, however, is a different story.

These fears over digital technologies are not new. Similar historical attitudes towards the introduction of television, printed media and even writing existed before society accepted them. Even Socrates, when speaking of writing said it would ‘create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.’ 

There’s little point in pitting digital technologies and books against each other when they have such different qualities to offer

Well, why not have the best of both worlds? There’s little point in pitting digital technologies and books against each other when they have such different qualities to offer. But when publishers are creating digital versions of their picture books it is difficult not to compare the two. Despite regularly and enthusiastically reviewing children’s apps, Nicolette Jones, Children's Book Editor for the Sunday Times, says that she’s ‘never seen a picture-book app doing something a book can’t do better’. 

Like Nicolette Jones I agree whole-heartedly that children’s digital applications should not, and simply cannot, replace picture books. However, I still believe that they have the power to enhance the reading experience for some and stand on their own as quality interactive experiences. Adding a dual modality to children’s stories, like sounds, can be useful for children and/or parents with visual impairments who can enjoy an enhanced version of the story together; families who have lower literacy levels may benefit from being read to by an app; and children's stories can potentially be translated into other languages for families who first language isn't English, particularly if they can’t get good quality books in their native language.

Digital apps can offer so much to families of all different shapes and sizes. But they need to be created in their own right, and not as an add-on.

If you need help exploring new apps, visit literacy apps, a handy guide for parents to help you discover the very best apps to support your child's language and literacy development. Also a new library scheme ‘Appiness’ available in North Ayrshire and East Lothian libraries has iPads installed in their children’s area with preinstalled educational apps geared towards those aged 2-5 and, for some of the apps, up to 8.

Have fun exploring on your digital adventures!

Ruth Grindley

Ruth Grindley is Early Years Digital Projects Manager at Scottish Book Trust.