Despite returning for in-person learning, many schools continue to use digital learning tools for reading. But is it bad for kids to read e-books? If you are a teacher or parent with this question, then you’re in the right place! This post breaks down important questions you need to ask when choosing ebooks vs. books for kids. Each question will help you choose reading material to empower your students and children.
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E-Books vs. Printed Books for Kids: Which is Better?
This is the million dollar question many teachers and parents ask. Especially after so many kids have been forced to learn digitally during the 2020 through 2022 school years.
No matter where you live, digital learning is here to stay.
But before we can give a definite YES or NO to this question, we must consider several other factors.
Which is what this post is all about; identifying important details to help you choose the best reading material for your kiddos.
Before we dig into those details, there is one more essential question that needs an answer upfront…
What is an E-Book?
E-books, e-readers, Kindle readers, LeapPads, iPads…are they all the same when it comes to reading for kids, right?
Some electronic books aka e-books mimic short form cartoons shows with words. Although these can be very interesting for kids to watch, students aren’t using the same reading skills with these.
Other devices may have key lacking features that don’t help struggling readers gain the skills they need to improve fluency and comprehension.
Check out my favorite E-Reader: Kindle Kids
But not all e-books are bad for kids.
Some devices display books in the same format as a printed book–except on a screen.
They have age-appropriate words and illustrations that keep kids engaged.
For these types of online or electronic books, students get to practice reading in the same way they would with a printed book.
You may be wondering, “what is the point of an ebook for kids?” Well, my friend, let’s find out.
1–Are My Kids Old Enough for E-Books?
When considering the pros and cons of e-books vs. books for kids, the first important question to ask relates to age.
Younger children who are just learning to read aren’t just looking at words and sounding them out.
Beginning readers also need to build visual, motor, social, and emotional skills when it comes to reading. Many of these skills are best practiced with hands-on learning that e-readers lack.
Although e-readers present highly engaging stories, some of the animations can be very distracting for younger readers.
This means adults should consider significantly limiting the amount of time Pre-K through 2nd or 3rd grade kids spend reading electronic books.
However, for students reading in upper elementary grades, e-books offer a variety of content that keep this age group excited about reading.
Keeping tweens excited about reading is especially important since Scholastic research reveals that up to 48% of kids in this age group stop reading for fun.
No studies or research showcases any negative effects of e-readers for older students.
So, when considering whether you should choose ebooks or printed books for your kids, first consider their age group.
2–Is It The Right Time of the Day for Electronic Readers?
Although this may seem like a random question, it’s actually the next important point to consider when choosing reading material.
The research from writers over at Raising Children encourage parents not to allow kids to use e-readers near bedtime.
Based on the lighting of your space + the blue lights from devices, your kids will become very stimulated from screen use.
This makes it much harder for them to get a good night’s sleep.
Plus, there are no studies that prove reading on a screen before bedtime helps students become stronger readers.
In fact, ensuring your kids get adequate sleep is a better way to promote their reading habits because they will be well-rested enough to excel the next day!
What about during the school day? Should students read paper books or electronic books during the day?
Absolutely, if all other appropriate conditions are met. These conditions include:
- Ample hands-on literacy center practice in class
- Guided reading group opportunities
- Balanced time with reading paper books vs. ebooks
- In a well-lit environment
- Has advanced beyond beginning reading level
If these are in place during the daytime and early evening a few hours before bed, then ebooks can be a wonderful reading option for kids.
3–What Other Learning Activities Have My Students Completed Recently?
When you are trying to decide whether your kiddos should read a paper book or a book through a screen, look closely at your overall schedule.
Instead of extremes like ‘always’ or ‘never’ when using a certain type of reading material, strive for a healthy variety of reading activities.
Pediatrician Dr. Andrew C. Siesennop of Tufts Floating Hospital for Children advises parents to make sure their children are engaged in other activities besides screen time.
What does this have to do with devices like e-books?
E-books aren’t bad for students as long as students are participating in other non-device learning activities on a regular basis.
This includes things like:
- going on field trips
- playing outside during recess, PE or outside of school time
- working collaboratively in groups with other kids
- completing seasonal crafts, which engages fine motor skills
- STEM projects
- and reading paper books whether fiction or nonfiction reading
Once you look over your lesson plans to see a variety of things your students are doing, then you’ll know whether to pull out the e-books or printed books.
How Do I Choose the Right E-Readers for Kids?
In a nutshell, ebooks are ok for kids. There’s no hard evidence that proves in every situation that kids should only have printed books.
Both electronic and print reading material offer chances for kids across age groups to grow stronger with reading.
So feel free to mix it up and use both!
Once you go through those top three questions, you’ll know which type of book to grab in different situations.
But knowing which e-reader to choose depends on even more factors.
In general, look for characteristics in e-books that would you look for in printed books.
Remember to choose devices that allow easy-to-setup parental controls.
Plus, kids of all ages struggle to stay focused with reading when there are pop-ups and too many animations.
Here are some other important details to keep in mind:
- the type of stories your students are interested in reading
- books that show diversity and representation
- whether the words are too difficult for kids to understand
To further help you find popular book ideas, check out these posts:
- The Best Chapter Books for 4th & 5th Graders
- 11 Interesting Children’s Books Written by Celebrities
- Read-Alouds for Upper Elementary Students
- The Best Read-Alouds for 2nd Graders
- Black History Month Books for Older Kids
Many of the book options listed on these posts show books that come in a printed and electronic version. This offers you flexibility when making the best choice for your students.
Where Can I Find Free E-Books for Kids?
Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of ebooks vs. books for kids, you may be interested in finding affordable electronic book options.
After hours and hours of research, I noticed that many e-books advertised as “free” cost you in other areas.
You end up paying with your time and must accept ads that pop up or show during reading.
If you don’t mind giving your email address and setting up several different accounts, OR if you don’t mind the ads, then these options offer “free” e-books for kids:
- Oxford Owl
- Project Gutenburg
- Storyline Online
How do I get kids interested in E-Books? Great Questions! Set kids up with an E-Reader and their eyes will be glued to the “pages” as they read book after book. Check out some E-Readers below.
My favorite way to find a huge range of “free” e-books is to just pay a small flat fee up front for access to a library of books.
This saves my time and often includes ad-free options so that students aren’t interrupted or distracted by marketing.
These are my top choices for that category:
If you would rather find more affordable printed books, this post offers lots of actionable tips on how to save money in that area:
Cheap and Free Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library
“I’m Forced to Use E-Books, So How Do I Make Virtual Reading Fun?”
Due to the ripple effects of forced at-home learning from 2020, many schools and families shifted permanently to online learning options.
Many classroom teachers also made the choice to become permanent full-time online teachers.
For those in this situation, choosing ebooks vs. books for kids isn’t really a choice.
If this is the case for you, virtual reading can be fun and effective.
This post gives detailed strategies for making the most of reading with a device.
The tips in this virtual reading post showcase options for different devices that work for teachers and parents.
Whether you are reading online or reading a paper book, the number one thing to keep in mind is to read with your students or children daily.
There’s an overwhelming amount of research that shows how students thrive when they are read to or read with on a consistent basis.
Chime in on the debate in our comments below.
Which do you think is better: ebooks or printed books? And why?
Maybe this post didn’t settle the argument of which is better between ebooks or printed books, but it definitely supports building a love of reading for kids! ❤️
Happy Reading 🦋