Q: My dad gave our third-grade son a Kindle. I'm amazed how much he reads on it! I have two worries. One, does he understand what he's reading on the Kindle as well as he does reading books? Plus, I miss reading books at bedtime with him. Should this matter?
A: With many children getting Kindles, iPads and other e-readers, their transition from reading text on paper to reading on digital devices is happening far faster than researchers can keep up. The only study I've found that addresses your question is by reading expert and education technologist Dr. Michael Milone. He recently found that students comprehend narrative text on an e-reader in almost exactly the same way they understand what they have read in books. The students in the study were in the fourth grade, and the books were popular fiction stories that matched the students' reading abilities.
"When tested on what they had read in both media, the students' scores were virtually identical. So, to answer your first question, you can be confident that your son can understand what he is reading on a Kindle or other e-reader," says Milone. (Find the study at http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R0054730029120B5.pdf. Find a summary at www.huffingtonpost.com/kirk-cheyfitz/teaching-with-tablets_b_1227236.html.)
Milone offers a few cautions. "These findings are based on storybook reading," he says. "They should not be extended to informational texts. Reading nonfiction and studying a textbook are different from reading for pleasure. The task involved in our study was familiar and straightforward and involved answering questions about the books on a computer-based assessment. We need additional research before drawing conclusions about aspects of nonfiction reading on a digital device.
"It is also important to keep in mind that children learn in different ways. Some might do better learning from either a digital device or a standard book."
Your question implies that you miss the experience of a real book and wonder if your son might feel the same way. Those concerns are justified, says Milone.
"I can say with confidence that reading with a child at bedtime is one of the most important things a parent can do," he says. "This will be true as long as there are humans around! I encourage all parents to be sure that our children always experience the joy of turning pages in books.
"Digital technology is convenient and can enhance the reading experience in many ways. But there is something about holding a book and reading with an important adult that is magical. Every young child should have an opportunity to experience this enchantment."
This is not the first time that technology is changing the way we look at the way the world works, Milone reminds us. "One of the most important changes occurred a few thousand years ago when another technology -- writing -- was invented," he says. "Socrates was not very happy about it and thought that writing would create the illusion of knowledge and would make memory less important!"
Reading is reading -- whether on a digital device or in a book. Feel good that you've fostered your son's love of this important life skill.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)