Raising a Reader, Naturally
                     Through Sensitivity, Guidance and Grace
This entire book, Raising a Reader, Naturally, is free -- and always will be.
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Chapter Twelve
eBooks and Reading Software
Mom, Dad, Aunt Sue, Uncle Nick, and everyone’s grandparents or caring tutors can sit
close to you, talk to you about new ideas or share a thought or two, or even share a
laugh with you while gently assisting you, a little partner, in trying out a new word or
savoring a new idea. Technology can not.
While technology has its merits, it has never been designed to be loving, caring, or particularly trustworthy, for that matter. Consequently, high-tech books such as eBooks or computer software cannot be expected to compete with or replace senior partners when it comes to helping a little partner learn to read.
Instead, eBooks and computer software for beginning readers are mostly designed to entertain. Indeed, these technologies are categorized and marketed as edutainment.
Jumping Monkeys
While jumping monkeys, taped music, and jiggling text can be engaging, such gimmicks offer little in the way of advancing one’s reading skills.
Like learning any new skill, learning to read is hard work and demands a greater mental effort from the beginning reader than what distracting sound effects and animation can provide.
Entertaining eBooks leave little to the imagination. With eBooks (as well as with television programs) there is no need to work at building images or characters in our minds. With animation and talking, walking characters, it is all right there.
The richness we gather from a well-written story by calling upon our own imagination -- is replaced by a high-tech designer’s idea of how to entertain children.
No doubt, eBooks are the wave of the future --especially in the realm of replacing (rightfully) those heavy, burdensome textbooks. They can also provide an incentive for less-than-motivated readers.
Still, overall they should not be used as a substitute for a warm, sensitive reading partner engaged in sharing a story, or happily bringing a little reading partner along the road to learning to read.
The Key? Sharing
While eBooks should not be ignored altogether, caution should be used in selecting the right books to share. And the key word here is “sharing.” Left alone with an entertaining eBook, a child is still left alone with a device essentially designed to do little more than to entertain.
To make the most of your shared reading session, whether the choice is an eBook or computer software, make sure the time you spend together is productive: ie., talk about the story or the "lesson," ask the same questions you would if you were sharing a book. Above all, make sure it's a pleasant experience -- cold, impersonal tech stuff can be a little grim.
As I have often stated, if you are to raise a successful reader, the real key is you. Do not let leave a little emerging reader to try to figure out the skills so necessary for learning how to read from a technical device -- when you are the real key to your child's success.
eBooks, Which Ones?
There is a huge array of eBooks available, but keep in mind that like all new-to-the-market gadgets, not all are equal.
Like print books, the best eBooks to share with a little partner offer quality writing with well-written stories and well-developed characters.
Look for manageable text (not too many words on a page) and images that enhance rather than distract from the story.
When the eBook does the reading (narration) it often distracts from the story itself, especially if the voice is not pleasant or expressive and other distracting noises intrude. And, most importantly, it is not your voice.
Some eBooks provide for multiple ways to interact with the text, giving the reader a choice of music or language, or actually reading-along with the text. These can be distracting to a little learner.
Some even highlight unknown words, providing dictionary definitions and/or word pronunciations. These are helpful to a more advanced reader -- but what little partner would have enough patience, or even an inclination, to look up new words?
Just because a child knows how to use the apps or function buttons, does not mean that he or she knows how to read. Learning to read is much more complicated and demanding than that. It takes different brain functions to learn to push buttons, than it does to learn to read.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line? Electronic books and computer software can be fun and even motivate reluctant readers. They can not, however, be much help in a little partner’s journey to becoming a successful reader -- at least in the beginning .For this journey requires perseverance, as well as the mental effort necessary to achieve those important language skills that will serve a little partner for the rest of his or her life.
Learning to read begins early, too early for technology to overtake the love and trust inherent in every early reading partnership.
Even at that, technology can be refreshing and enjoyable. It can be enlightening, leading to new vistas and increasing our insight and knowledge of the world. But to-date, it certainly has not perfected a program that will teach a child how to read, if it ever will. Most of all, it can not replace a dedicated and loving senior partner when it comes to teaching a little partner how to read by reading together, by sharing stories and books -- naturally.