Supporting children during the pandemic: 6 digital reading tips for parents
Reading to young children is essential
When parents or caregivers read to children, they begin to understand the world around them and make new connections. The interaction with words and pictures strengthens children’s cognitive, emotional, language, motor, sensory, and social skills development.
Making reading time an integral part of a family’s value system fosters children’s long-term love of reading, and, perhaps more importantly, reinforces the importance of lifetime learning.
Various barriers can make the daily habit of reading to children challenging
Paper books are scarce in economically under-resourced regions, especially with libraries and schools closed as a result of Covid-19.
When parents do have access to paper books, it remains difficult to find the diverse number of age-appropriate, locally relevant books needed to create a consistent reading routine, improve literacy, or spark children’s interest and imagination.
Technology is levelling the field
Mobile devices (feature phones, smartphones, tablets and similar devices) people carry in their pockets or purses in every corner of the world have the power to turn even the youngest children into lifetime readers.
With over 5.2 billion unique mobile subscribers across the globe (GSMA Intelligence, 2020), approximately 68% of the world population, parents and caregivers can proactively use their mobile devices to provide a safe, effective and engaging digital reading environment with their mobile phones.
Parents and caregivers play a vital role strengthening children’s reading
When used effectively, digital books can help establish the crucial bond needed between adults and children, and serve as a starting point in creating a safe and fun reading environment.
In a 2019 report, Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood education and development at the University of Stavanger, Norway, writes “Often with digital media, adults assume that because there is some embedded feedback and support within the digital device or within the digital book, that the child doesn’t need us.” “But actually we do know from many studies with digital books, and also [with] TV, video learning and other digital media, that the adult’s presence is crucial for the child’s learning and long-term enjoyment.”1
Parents’ or caregiver’s active participation is a vital part of children’s success as readers, students, and, later, as a productive members of society.
Many parents and caregivers, however, do not know where or how to begin with digital reading. At Worldreader, we hear this concern voiced frequently in the communities where we work. We suggest starting with what most people have in their hands already – their mobile phone.
Tips for effective digital reading to children
Fundamentally, parents and caregivers need to understand that the early years, from newborn to eight years old, are the most important years of a child’s life, and that they form the foundation of a child’s overall development.
Therefore, it is essential to create a digital reading environment that’s right for each child’s age and developmental stage.
While books expand children’s imaginations, it is the right combination of a diverse set of culturally relevant and age-appropriate books and the way parents and caregivers engage with children that will make a lasting impression.
For instance, “dialogic reading” is critical to improving comprehension. Creating a dialog while reading to children, asking questions before, during, and after a story and soliciting children’s reactions or opinions is important to successful storytelling.
Play is vital as well, and parents who invite their children to draw a picture after reading a story together, role-play as different characters in the book, or re-invent different endings for a story will improve the quality of the dialogic reading in young children.
There are several other things parents can do to feel more comfortable reading to their children on digital devices.
Here are some tips we give to parents and caregivers:
1. Read to children 15 minutes a day. Whether parents choose to read paper or digital books, reading daily for 15 minutes helps build children’s cognitive, language, motor, sensory and social skills.
2. Take control of the device. Parents using phones or tablets should hold the device in their hands when reading with young children. When storytime is over, put the device away.
3. Get children involved in the story. When reading from a digital device, engage with children before, during and after the story to help them focus on and understand what’s being read to them. Ask children questions about the setting, characters and plot. Bring the story to life by using different voices for the characters. Make the story fun and enjoy your time together.
4. Expand the learning with active play. Incorporate what children have learned from the story into active play. Active play is vital to development – in fact, World Health Organization recommendations urge young children to be more active.2 Encourage children to pretend to be characters, act out scenes from the story, or make a drawing inspired by the story.
5. Focus on reading. Resist the urge to introduce other device functions to young children. Use the phone only for storytelling, especially with children six years old and younger. If children see the device as a means to watch videos or play games, they will want to use it on their own.
6. Set a digital device curfew. When reading from a device that emits blue light (which can interfere with sleep), set a digital device curfew. Finish reading digital stories from blue-light emitting devices at least one hour before bedtime.3
While we are all adapting to life inside during this global pandemic, taking the extra time to read to and with the children in your life can make a world of difference in supporting their learning.
For great children’s e-books, visit Worldreader’s Booksmart App on any data connected phone at bebooksmart.org to get started.
For additional reading tips and age-appropriate reading activities or information about how you can help support families to read with their children at home, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to support you in your reading journey.
- Kucirkova, Natalia. Children’s Reading With Digital Books: Past Moving Quickly to the Future. Child Development Perspectives. First published: Sept. 20, 2019. 208-214. doi:10.1111/cdep.12339. URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12339
- To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more. World Health Organization. April 24, 2019 URL: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/24-04-2019-to-grow-up-healthy-children-need-to-sit-less-and-play-more
- How Blue Light Affects Kids & Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. URL: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-blue-light-affects-kids-sleep