Do reading apps really teach kids to read?

You don’t need to have a kid to know how dependable a babysitter an iPad can be. Look around any restaurant or airplane and you’ll see plenty of quiet young children (emphasis on quiet) plugged in. There’s a certain solace some parents get by ensuring, via educational apps, that their kids are at least learning something while staring at a tiny screen in their palms, rather than playing mindless games or watching movies. But that may be a false promise, at least when it comes to reading.

A recent article from the New York Times challenges the notion that reading apps and e-books can be effective educational tools for aspiring young readers. Several studies suggest that reading comprehension is worse when kids read on an electronic device. As the Times article poses the question, is it story time or simply screen time? From the article:

In a 2013 study, researchers found that children ages 3 to 5 whose parents read to them from an electronic book had lower reading comprehension than children whose parents used traditional books. Part of the reason, they said, was that parents and children using an electronic device spent more time focusing on the device itself than on the story. — New York Times

That thought has a lot to do with our motivation behind launching Tales Untold as an audio storytelling experience. Believe me, as a parent of two children under the age of four, my iPhone is most definitely in my quiver of parenting tools. But with Tales Untold, I want the device to get out of the way. Our app is designed for kids to experience the delight of our storytelling, not your phone. I fear that relying on visual stimulation can stunt the growth of a young child’s imagination–or an adult’s imagination, for that matter.

That’s what has always appealed to me about audio storytelling: it draws the listener into his/her own mind to dream up a world of characters and places. Tales Untold isn’t intended to be an educational app, per se, but there is plenty a child can learn by looking inward, and not at a screen.

photo: Petras Gagilas, Creative Commons 2.0

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