In 2012 the most popular interactive parts of ebooks (according to research) were voice narration, hot spots (places on the screen that respond to touch), games, sounds (music and sound effects), and text highlighting.
None of these features are present in traditional print books.
What this means is that before children can “read” an ebook, they need to know how to navigate its interactive features. For some children, navigating is fun. If they have wrestled with video games, like Mario Brothers, they might find navigating an ebook a challenge or even easy.
But for children new to electronic equipment, or for children who find new situations difficult, learning to read an ebook can be frustrating. For example, ebook readers need to familiarize themselves with numerous icons, whose meaning changes depending on the ebook. Tapping a backwards circling arrow in one book might mean go back to the previous page, while in another book it might alert the narrator to read the book aloud.
What can you as a parent do to help your child navigate ebooks?
- Show your child various versions of the same book—a print version, an audio version, and a digitally available one, for example. Or show several different digital stories. Point out that reading each one requires different skills. Try to name some features that are the same and some that are different.
- Model how to navigate an ebook, talking to yourself out loud so your child can hear you think aloud. Ask your child for suggestions. Explore the technology of the book together.
- When you or someone close to you gets a new phone or tablet or other device, explore its features with your child. Point out to your child the new features and how important it is to stay up-to-date on these changes. Imagine together what features your next device will have.
- When the child reads an ebook and encounters a problem, help him to solve it with minimal involvement from you, so he develops a “can-do” attitude. Remind him of another situation like this which he has already encountered. Encourage him to try various approaches. Be persistent.
- Most importantly, make your child comfortable with the idea of change.
Is your young child using a laptop computer, a notebook or a tablet in the classroom? One in three students are, according to a survey by Project Tomorrow based in Irvine, CA.
Until now, most of the ebook material available has been at too high a reading level for beginning readers, but that is rapidly changing. (For example, Mrs. A and I created five ebook stories for children learning short vowel sounds.)
The narrative or story ebooks (picture books) that would attract grades preK-2 are becoming more sophisticated as publishers experiment with the features these ebooks can offer.
- The first such ebooks were scanned versions of picture books in their original form—same cover, same font size, same everything except that these ebooks were available on a digital platform. Some features of picture books were lost, such as the tiny size of board books or the large size of some illustrations, but other features were gained, such as the fun of using a computer or phone to read a picture book.
- Later ebooks took the Reading Rainbow approach—a voice reading the book aloud, and pictures zooming in or out as if to show action. Instead of the child being in charge of the reading, and moving through the book at his own pace, the film director decided what was important, what words to emphasize and how much time to spend on any one illustration.
- The next step in the evolution of ebook picture books was interactive ebooks. The design of the print version was altered to take advantage of features like “Read to me” (the child presses a button and a voice reads the book), music, sound effects and animation.
- More recently, tablets and smart phones allow children to move characters about so that the reader becomes part of the story. The child reader can “help” a character by performing certain actions, or at the end of the story, complete puzzles, word games and coloring activities related to and enriching the story or the child’s reading skills. Many of these new picture books begin life as ebooks, bypassing the printed stage altogether.
What’s next? I suspect ebooks will become personalized, with the child able to change the name of a character to a name of his choice, and to change the outcome of the story to fit his mood. He might be able to change the color scheme or to select more advanced vocabulary as his reading skills improve. Look to video games, to wii and x-box 360 for technology that will eventually work its way into ebooks.
What would Dr. Seuss think?