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Reading eBooks to Children from a Tablet or e-Reader
Reading eBooks to Your Children
In our family we really love books. We also love our technology. One of our favorite family activities is for me to read a book to my children. My boys are aged 6 and nearly 8 at time of writing so they are ready for lots of childhood classics but still young enough to love being read to (and I'm hoping to make this last as long as possible!)
I'm finding that reading to them from a tablet or e-reader works really well. We've got a variety of devices to choose from including a Kindle e-Reader, a Kindle Fire HD tablet and an iPad (plus phones and various other devices.)
I read to my children before bed most evenings. The way we do this varies, but at the moment, I read to them first - it's an incentive for them to get ready for bed quickly! Then they read to themselves for a while (and I sometimes switch to reading my own book) and then I read to them a bit more with the lights out before they go to sleep.
I also read to them a lot on family car journeys. I don't drive so I get to sit between them in the back of the car and read. (Oddly I don't get carsick.) We also like to curl up with a story on a wet weekend day. We manage to fit in lots of reading when we're camping and it's a great way to keep the kids quiet first thing in the morning if we are staying at a hotel or with family.
Using eBooks for most of the reading aloud is much more practical for me and means that I'm much more inclined to read to the children regularly.
Modern Bedtime Reading
Advantages of Reading eBooks to Kids
First of all I love paper books. We have a house full of them and do still buy them. But there are some key advantages to reading eBooks to your children that mean that when I'm reading to my kids it's more likely to be using a device.
Here are some of the key benefits that we see:
- I can read to the children when they are in bed after the lights are off. This seems to help my younger son drop off to sleep afterwards. (The older one falls asleep very easily so not an issue for him!) This of course requires a device with a light source.
- Lots of older out of copyright classic books are available for free for Kindle and other e-Reader formats. I've found some excellent books this way (this is probably a topic for another article!)
- It's easy to have several books with us when we travel so that if we finish one we have another ready to go.
- Most eBooks are formatted with information about chapter lengths and apps keep track of reading speed so you can immediately tell roughly how long it is to the end of the chapter. This really helps when deciding whether you can finish a chapter or should start a new one before bed.
- We can get new books immediately and without having to go anywhere. Having to wait a few days for a delivery or to have chance to pop to the shops can be annoying when you find out a new book that the kids really want to hear.
- eBooks don't take up space which enables us to save our limited storage space for books that really benefit from being in hard copy. This means that we won't need to get rid of books to make room for new ones and the boys will be able to re-read the books for themselves when they're older if they want to.
- Increasingly eBooks are getting cheaper than their paper counterparts. There are often good deals that we take advantage of too.
- There's only one device to remember to take with us to make sure I have my books and the books I'm reading to the children available. This is great for trips.
- We can borrow eBooks from our local library and read them using the Overdrive app (on tablets but not eReaders.) This is brilliant. We get to use our library without physically going there.
- It's much easier to find digital books. Very handy if we want to find a book we already own.
- You can download and read a sample of a book before buying it. Very handy when trying something new - you can decide from your children's reaction whether it's worth spending money on a new book.
- On many devices it's easy to look words up in a digital dictionary when you come across a work you don't know or find hard to explain. I find this very useful when reading books that were written a long time ago. I find this doesn't break the flow like stopping to find a dictionary when reading a paper book.
Old vs New!
Do you prefer reading to your children from a paper book or eBook?
Disadvantages of eBooks
It's not all positive when it comes to eBooks - we still have plenty of paper books. Here are some of the negatives:
- If you're still at the picture book stage where kids want to look at the pictures or you want early readers to follow along with the text then you may want to avoid devices just before bed. There's some evidence that it can affect sleep.
- Sometimes you can find used books at bargain prices from a yard sale. We still take advantage of these.
- There's a start-up cost of buying a device which you don't have for paper books.
- Tablets in particular can be a distraction for some kids. They may see them as devices for playing Angry Birds and find it hard to focus on a book when there's a tablet around. (My kids prefer books to apps so we haven't had this problem.)
- The adult reader may get distracted by surfing the web if they are using a tablet and be less prompt at beginning bedtime stories. (Okay, I admit that happens sometimes. I am thinking of switching to an e-Reader at bedtime so I'm limited to reading a book myself.)
- You can't share eBooks very easily and lend them to friends or take them in to school. This isn't too much of a problem with the books I read to my children, it tends to be more of an issue with the books they read themselves.
- There are places like the beach where you'd be happy to take a dog-eared paperback but would prefer not to take your precious iPad! This is one of the times when we switch to bargain physical books.
Choosing a Device for Reading to Your Children
If you're thinking of buying a device with the main goal of being able to read to your children then there are a few things to think about. I haven't found the perfect single device that does everything that I want so we've ended up with multiple devices. You should definitely think carefully about how you will use the device before buying.
Tablet vs e-Reader
Battery life has improved a lot on tablets and shouldn't be a problem for home use provided you can remember to charge the device!
This is where e-Readers really shine. We like to go camping without an electric hookup. An e-Reader is brilliant for this purpose.
Availability of eBooks
Tablets have good support for a variety of eBook formats and also allow you to read free eBooks direct from the web if you have an internet connection. Apps such as Overdrive are briliant for borrowing eBooks from your local library - check that platform they use.
e-Readers have good access to free and paid for eBooks but access to eBooks borrowed from a library may not be possible.
Reading in the Dark
Works well and brightness can be adjusted.
Not all e-Readers have a light so do think about this.
Tablets are available at a variety of price points. You do tend to get what you pay for.
A top of the range e-Reader is cheaper than a top of the range tablet. A cheap e-Reader might be just fine for the job though.
Tablet screens vary enormously and reading eBooks is one of the areas where the differences really show. Make sure you pick a tablet with a good screen.
e-Readers are generally very easy on the eye for reading for long periods. They cope better with reading outside too (handy for camping!)
A tablet is far more flexible. This can be an advantage but it can also be a distraction!
An e-Reader is a much more specialized device.
Tablets vary is size but are heavier than e-Readers. The ideal tablet for other family uses may not be the ideal device to pop in your purse for reading while waiting at the dentist.
Modern e-Readers are light and portable.
Good Devices for Reading to Children
We've been impressed with the good quality screen, integration with Amazon services and the reasonable price.
You don't need an iPad to read eBooks to your children! But if you are looking for an extra reason to justify buying an iPad that will be used for other purposes then reading to your children is an excellent one.
Choose a Kindle Paperwhite for reading comfort and less distraction from the other features of a tablet.
Our eBook Reading Devices
I actually use four different devices for reading to my kids.
- My iPad. And it is my iPad! The kids get to borrow it occasionally, but this is the device that I use regularly. I find it convenient to read to them from my device because then I can easily switch to the book I'm reading or other activities.
- Our Kindle Fire HD. This tablet is available for the kids to use. I'll use this device when it's convenient. If I'm reading with my younger son then we can take turns reading a page each to get him started on a new book and then he can carry on. (We've been pleased with the Kindle Fire as a device for children.)
- A Kindle e-Reader. I've got a older model that is still going strong. It's great for camping when we have limited access to electricity. It's also light and portable. It's probably time for an upgrade to a new model with a light so I can use it for bedtime reading as I do think an e-Reader is easier on the eye.
- My phone. This is a bit of a last resort, but handy if we get stuck waiting somewhere and need to kill some time.
It's also worth noting that we have some cheaper Android tablets that I avoid for reading. Screen quality is one of the things that tends to get compromised on in cheaper devices. Reading is one of the activities where I really appreciate a good quality screen (both the Kindle Fire HD and the iPad are excellent for reading from.)
Can You Really Snuggle Up with a Gadget?
One objection that some people have to reading to their children from a tablet or e-Reader is that you can't snuggle up with an electronic device. Hmm We're not convinced. Books tend to have much pointier corners than gadgets.
Reading from a tablet is mostly hands-free too. Just prop the device up and you only need to touch it to change page. That leaves hands and arms free for cuddling. Try it and see.
What About Audio Books?
If you choose a tablet or other audio-enabled device then you have the option of having eBooks read to your children. This might appeal if you're not always available to read to your children.
Personally, I prefer to read to my kids. The time when they appreciate this is short enough. It gives us the chance to pause and discuss the story or for me to explain what a word means. And besides I really enjoy it.
If they want to listen to books that I don't want to read then audio books are a good alternative. Or if they want to listen to more books than I have time to read.
But I'm going to make as much time as possible to read to them and luckily we seem to be able to find plenty of books that we all enjoy.
Tips for Reading eBooks to Kids
- Get into a regular routine for charging the device. It's a real pain if you find out the battery is low at bedtime.
- Keep an eye out for offers on children's eBooks and always have a few waiting to be read. This way you won't feel under pressure to make an expensive purchase when you run out of books to read.
- Try reading to your kids with the light out (if you have a device that supports this) it might help them fall asleep more easily afterwards.
- When planning a trip don't forget to load up your device with books - you may find you can't get Wifi or 3G access when you need it.
- Try some classic older out of copyright free children's eBooks. They're great for expanding children's vocabulary and giving them a different perspective.
- When you're ready for a new book, download several samples of books that are slightly different from what you would normally choose. You might find a new author that your children (and you!) love. Finding out what they don't like is useful too.
Do You Read eBooks to Your Children?
Or are you going to start?