Children’s Literacy Goes High Tech

Guest post by Earl Martin Phalen, CEO, Reach Out and Read

Since 1989, Reach Out and Read pediatricians nationwide have been doling out new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

Twenty-three years later, the emphasis on early literacy remains important as ever. However, the book is changing.

For the first time in Reach Out and Read’s history, we find ourselves faced with a new kind of children’s book, one that is displayed on the screen of a tablet. Devices such as the NOOK, the Kindle, the iPad, and the Fable are leading us to a new frontier of literacy — whether we like it or not.

As a nonprofit dedicated to fostering literacy-rich home environments and children who love books and reading, we’re paying close attention to the explosion of e-readers. We’re thinking and studying and talking. We don’t know the answers — yet.

What we do know is what we’ve always known: Children who are read to from an early age have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life than those who are not. That’s the message we continue to spread. With research behind us, we know that engaged parents can make a serious and meaningful difference in their children’s educational outcomes.

To date, there have been lots of voices in the mix of the e-reader debate. The New York Times wrote about tech-savvy parents who insist on traditional books for their children. The Washington Post reported on the pros and cons of apps for kids on smartphones and tablets.  A Maine School Superintendent last year made waves when every kindergartner in his district received an iPad, and he declared that the device was “even more important than a book.”

We’re keeping our voice focused on the fact that for an e-reader to be an effective learning and bonding tool, it needs to be used responsibly. Many devices come with bells and whistles that can distract both parents and children.

The e-reader should be used by parents and children together, with the same goals as a physical book. It should stimulate a child’s language, listening, prediction, and cognitive skills, build curiosity and memory, and create a nurturing environment positive for both the parent and the child.

As the technology develops and the conversation around e-readers unfolds, we’ll continue to recommend that parents read aloud to their children at least 20 minutes each and every day. We’ll still encourage families to talk and sing and imagine together.

And we’ll always remind them that the best parent-child bonding time happens over a book.

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Learn more at

*Note* The above guest post is from the CEO of Reach Out and Read, Earl Martin Phalen. This content does not necessarily reflect the views of Better World Books (as our lawyers make sure we say). We love having guest bloggers and invite you to email if you are interested in covering a book or topic on the BWB Blog. Thank you, Earl, we love what Reach Out and Read does!

What are your thoughts on e-books for kids?

One Comment

  1. Seems to me that part of learning to read a book [a “real” one] is the eye-hand coordination required to turn an actual, paper page. That’s why books for babies are usually “board books,” with thicker, heavier pages — or plastic/rubber books that babies can chew on and even take into the bath. Then, as the child gets older, he learns to turn thinner and thinner pages until finally he can use and read a “grown-up” book. Just flicking your finger across a screen doesn’t develop this ability as well.

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