Kids and eReaders: Something Gained . . . and Something Lost?

An interesting mention today on Fuse #8 about eReaders for small fry and B&N’s color Nook for kids. Velocity is doing the same thing in a much sturdier version; read about the storypad here.

While this is all interesting, I still think that a crucial interaction between a parent and kid will be lost with a reader.  Call it my prejudice, but being a child shrink means I think about child development and human interactions–particularly between parent and child–all the time.  That kind of human interaction is just as important as manipulation of the environment.  There’s something about holding and manipulating the actual BOOK that dovetails with the development of a kid’s spatial-recognition skills.  In a way, this is why older teens haven’t much liked eReaders and don’t find them all that useful as textbooks (I believe it was Princeton that tried the experiment and concluded that eReaders were a no-go).  Spatial skills develop very early on and go hand-in-hand with acquisition of object permanence: that something continues to exist in three-dimensional space (and memory) even if a child can’t see it.  It’s why very young children will look behind a mirror to see where something’s gone; why peek-a-boo works so well with infants but bores a toddler.  The toddler knows you’re there; the infant is delighted to see you reappear; and the kid in-between will eventually reach out and take your hands away to reveal your face–> a key realization that utilizes both object permanence AND a knowledge of HOW an object occupies space.

This is also a highly adaptive survival skill.  If this were a cave-kid, this would translate, eventually, into an understanding that the wolf about to eat you is hiding behind that rock; it’s not gone and if you don’t realize that, you don’t survive.  So these kinds of skills are very old: not primitive, just essential.

In the same way, think about how people find information in, say, a book.  The book exists in multiple dimensions, of which not the least important is 3-D: a book as an object with width, length and depth.  Depth (and not just depth perception) is extremely important in terms of accessing information.  If you talk to kids (and older teens and adults), many can tell you approximately how far *along* in the book a certain tidbit of information might be; this is how people find things in books (and space, in general; it’s why you can recall not only the layout of your cluttered desk, but how you also remember that the paper you’re looking for is third pile over, about halfway down).  Similarly, kids can also describe the look of the page and its layout, as well as what comes before and after.

While the ability to recall the look and layout of a page might translate with an eReader (and I’m still not sold on that), there is no 3-D in a reader and no opportunity to exercise spatial skills that might compensate if, say, your ability to recall WHAT the page looks like isn’t as advanced.  Spatial skills are also something that many boys are better at by adolescence than girls.

Just some food for thought.  While there may be gains with eReaders, I wonder, really, what will be lost: which skills might not develop as well or be capitalized upon.  Conversely, would some kids develop different skill-sets?  Possibly.  Only time would tell–but, again, I’m not sure that neglecting innate abilities in favor of new tech is a good thing.

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