Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Child psychologists compare apps with books

Edited by Jill Wright,

One of the traditions we've established with our grandchildren when they stay with us overnight is to take them down to the local children's bookshop - which happens to be quite close to Psychology Melbourne's Centre for Child and Family Care - and buy them a book of their choice. We follow that up with a bedtime reading.

Our aim is to balance the ever-growing fascination of our younger generation with iPad apps with traditional reading. Recent studies at Britain's Royal Holloway Baby Lab seem to support our assumptions.

According to a fascinating article in The Guardian, tablet "storyapps" - a hybrid of print books, video and digital games - are very good at capturing the attention of children, but may disrupt their ability to learn from them.

The best children's books offer rich vocabulary and comparatively complex language. Storybook apps distract a child's attention, so they end up just playing the game, rather than gaining a deeper understanding of the text.

The research also shows that storyapps tend to discourage parental or peer support, which is critical when children are learning to read. According to the article, "the more electronic features there were in the book, the less parents engaged in supportive reading styles and the lower the children's overall story comprehension."

That doesn't mean that storyapps are bad. They are a lot of fun and encourage family bonding, and many of them do cultivate a child's independent reading ability. The trick, it seems, is to provide both ... and avoid using the digital versions as a baby-sitter.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.