A new approach to digital reading

A blog by Tom Grayson, co-founder of Ebookadabra

Four in 10 school kids own their own smart phone and tablet — a number that’s rising. And the amount of time spent on screens for five to 15 year olds is almost 14 hours per week.

These are worrying statistics for some, with a quarter of parents saying that ‘screen-time’ is their number one parenting concern.

Children’s use of devices is an emotive subject and there is a sense of moral panic from parents, teachers and experts according to many reports.

But is the alarm justified? We simply don’t know.

This is because the research is mostly too narrow to tell us. It tends to focus on quantative measurements, such as the number of devices and hours of screen time, with little attention given to the qualitative aspects.

Many academics are concerned about the level of hysteria surrounding this research. 81 of them wrote a letter which appeared in The Guardian, saying:

“… the message that many parents will hear is that screens are inherently harmful. This is simply not supported by solid research and evidence… the concept of “screen time” itself is simplistic and arguably meaningless, and the focus on the amount of screen use is unhelpful. There is little evidence looking at the impact of the context of screen use, and the content that children encounter when using digital technologies — factors that may have a much greater impact than sheer quantity alone.”

There may be a link between screens and behavioural issues but the connection is complex and not fully understood.

There is ample evidence that using screens late at night disturbs sleep and impacts levels of concentration. But this does not mean screens are bad. It just means we need to be careful how we use them. The problem with the alarmist approach is that it skews people’s ability to think objectively about the subject.

So, what can we say about digital reading and its impact on kids?

The environment is right for it. Domestic and mobile connectivity is high and kids’ tablet ownership is through the roof. Primary schools have tablets and digital literacy features on the curriculums for Key Stage 1 & 2.

Some digital experiences can get kids, particularly reluctant boy readers to engage more in books. A National Literacy Trust study found that after taking part in an eBooks project, the reading levels, attitudes and confidence of young participants was greatly improved — twice as many boys thought that reading was ‘cool’ at the end of the 14-week study.

An OECD 2016 study found English teenagers to have the lowest literacy rates of all developed nations. We did our own research this year which showed that literacy rates appeared to be worse amongst younger kids (3–7 years) which suggests a declining trend in literacy rates. It’s clear we need to try something new.

At Ebookadabra, we focus on kids who struggle to read, who find it ‘uncool’, kids who prefer to game, kids who have English as a second language and kids from families where there is no culture of reading. These kids are very hard to get to using traditional literacy tools such as a physical book; the ‘story at bedtime’ doesn’t suffice. We believe digital could open a door to reading for some kids that have never been exposed to it. We do not say digital reading is the only solution, but we believe it is a new and powerful tool to help all kids develop a love of reading.

Ebookadabra is the UK’s first subscription model reading app for young children aged 3–7 years who are learning to read. It contains over 1,000 picture books from top publishers like Disney, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury and Oxford University Press. The platform provides a clever system of educational games that unlock when a child finishes a book, personalised avatars and themes, and virtual rewards to win. Many books feature audio with read-along and parents can messaging their children, record audio versions of books and recommend new content.

Please get in touch and let us know what you think: contact@moondogbooks.com

Find out more about Ebookadabra here www.ebookadabra.com or download for free on iTunes app here https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ebookadabra/id1050598914


Ofcom report: children and parents: media use and attitudes report (PDF available)

BMJ Open report, 3rd February 2015 (PFD available)