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When letting the child drive, know the end of the road!

by Kathrin Rees, Doctoral Candidate, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

In the preceding blog I referenced an article by Lowry, which contains a very practical list of tips for using ebooks with children at home. In particular, parents are advised to give the child the lead when being jointly engaged with e-books. Clearly, this advice comes directly from Hanen’s long-established “It Takes Two to Talk” program, which teaches parents of children with language delays to apply this strategy when playing or reading paper books together. One specific purpose of the strategy is to prolong the period of time during which the child stays in the interaction, thus increasing opportunities for practicing communicative skills. Hanen is not the only organization to suggest a child-centred strategy for sharing ebooks with children: like Hanen’s give the child the lead, the introduction to Family Time with Apps advocates placing the child in the driver’s seat in order to facilitate learning from apps.

Rather than taking a prescriptive approach, we have been describing what happens when parents and children share digital devices. In our digital media project we have been curious to know whether parents follow their child’s lead with paper or ebooks. Interesting, we have found that the vast majority of parents follow an opposite impulse: just like when looking at print-books with their child, they strive to retain a relatively high degree of control in shared reading of e-books. The major difference between the two contexts is that children are usually tolerant of taking a passive role when sharing paper books but sometimes less so when sharing ebooks with their parents. This observation holds true for diverse parent-child dyads, i.e., mono- and multilingual learners, children with typically developing language, and children with language impairments. In particular, parents of children accustomed to using mobile devices autonomously often made sure to reserve specific types of interactions (e.g., page turning) for themselves, even before beginning the actual reading. For example, one participating father introduced the e-book to his son by saying: I am the one who‘s gonna drive, okay? This example immediately flashed to my mind when I first came across the advice to place the child in the driver’s seat (as given on page 3 of “Family Time with Apps”); the latter curiously represents the very reverse while making use of the same (driving) metaphor. The son in what followed acted in quite an inhibited way, cautiously stretching out his finger and awaiting the father’s permission each time before allowing himself to touch the screen. Admittedly, not all children showed such a high degree of compliance.

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