The answer, according to Lisa Guernsey of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative, is that when we read with a child on an e-reader, we may actually impede our child’s ability to learn. Ms. Guernsey interpreted recent research on childhood literacy for Time magazine, and found that parents interact differently with children over an e-reader than over a physical book. That difference may make children slower to read and comprehend a story.
Children sitting with a parent while an e-reader reads to them understand significantly less of what's read than those hearing a parent read. Researchers at Temple University, where the study was done, noted that parents reading books aloud regularly asked children questions about the book: "What do you think will happen next?" Parents sitting with the child while a device read to them (like a LeapPad or some iPad apps) didn't ask these questions, or relate images or incidents in the book to the child's real life. Instead, their conversation was focused on how to use the device: "Careful! Push here. Hold it this way."
Ms. Guernsey, observing videos of parents reading to their children from iPads, found a tendency to do the same, even when the device wasn't doing the reading. Readers with an e-reader were focused on the device, not the story. Children whose parents talk to them about what they're reading gain reading skills faster, but children reading with parents from digital rather than physical books aren't getting as much of that kind of interaction.
Does that mean we should never read with or to our children from our various gadgets? Not necessarily. In our house, we find the devices themselves too distracting for regular reading, but I imagine that a child who's more accustomed to an e-reader wouldn't be convinced, as mine are, that the book represents a preliminary activity to a rare game of Angry Birds. If I did read from my iPad, I'd look hard at how I talked with my child as we swiped the pages and ask myself whether the tool was changing the conversation. I don't, so instead, I'm asking myself the usual guilty-parent question, and worrying about whether we read together enough in any medium.
Do you read with a child from any kind of e-reader, or have a child who regularly uses an electronic tool to read? Do you see any ways your child's reading experience is different when she reads from a physical book as opposed to an e-reader, or when you use books or e-readers together? What's your call on the e-reader versus the paper book for children?