There’s a lot of buzz these days about e-books and picture book apps, but not a lot of research yet on what these experiences are like for the pre-school set. A “quick study” by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a think-tank for research and development of digital media to support children’s learning, shows this: Reading comprehension among 3-to-6-year-olds may be the same between print books and basic e-books, but dip as interactive bells and whistles are added to the e-book. The report is called a “quick study” because it focuses on a small sample size of 32 pairs of parents and children, but it’s a start to explore critical questions about how digital media may or may not be useful at the critical time in a child’s development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended no screen time for children ages 0 – 2 years, and no more than 1-2 hours per day after that. Traditionally screen-based offerings for the pre-school set have been mostly passive ways of receiving information about the world. The research above suggests that adding meaningful interactivity for this crowd may be difficult. As older digital media consumers, we use interactivity to access more information, solve puzzles, and drive our own experience. It seems that the interactivity so far being offered to the youngest crowd is of the lights-and-sounds type that distracts from, rather than enhances, the overall content.

Perhaps this is a case where less is more, and sticking with a straight translation of the print book into digital format is better than taking advantage of all the capabilities of the media just because those capabilities exist. We’ll need more research, but in the meantime, I’m sure there are lots of opinions out there. What do you think?