Touch-screen gadgets help children read
Smartphones and tablet computers can encourage poor pre-school children to read, according to a report by the National Literacy Trust, because they offer a route into reading.
The research has found that technology can have a 'new and important' role to play in getting children as young as three to read.
The study suggests there are benefits to young children using both print and a touch screen, compared to reading physical books alone.
The findings, based on a poll of around 1,000 parents of three to five-year-olds, show that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to touch screens - for example through tablet computers - than their richer peers.
But of those children with access to touch screens, pre-schoolers from lower socio-economic backgrounds are twice as likely to look at stories using this technology on a daily basis than those from more privileged homes (16% compared to 7.2%).
It goes on to say that children were more likely to enjoy reading if they used both books and a touch screen than reading books alone (77.4% compared to 70.8%).
The study concludes: " Technology offers a route into reading for disadvantaged three to five-year-old children. Of children who have a touch screen at home, children of lower socio-economic status are twice as likely to look at stories daily.
"We also found that poorer children who use both books and touch screens to look at stories are less likely to perform below the expected standard for their age than if they only look at books."
The study reveals that overall, children are still more likely to read using a physical book, with almost all (95.2%) looking at print-based stories on a typical week.
In comparison, just over one in four (26%) use a touch screen at home to look at stories.
And it suggests that parents are keen on their youngsters using the latest gadgets, with nearly three quarters (73.7%) agreeing that it was important for their son or daughter to learn to use technology from an early age to help them get on at school.
The trust has suggested that technology should be exploited as a basis for reading, but the recommendation has provoked criticism from nursery leaders who warned that exposure to technology at a young age risked damaging children’s development.
Teachers have previously claimed that children’s attention spans and concentration levels are shorter than ever before because of addiction to screen-based entertainment.
The study also looked at the reading habits of parents and found that the more a mum or dad enjoys reading, the more they think their child enjoys the activity.
Almost half of the parents questioned (46.8%) said they read print on a daily basis, while a similar proportion (45.2%) read on a touch screen daily.
"The more often parents read either print or using a touch screen, the more likely children are to look at or read print-based stories," the study found.
It added: "The majority of parents think they are very good readers (75.6%) and the more skilled parents say they are at reading, the better their children's communication and language outcomes at age five."
NLT director Jonathan Douglas, said: "Technology is playing an increasingly crucial role in all our lives and the ways in which children are learning are changing fast. It is important that we keep abreast of these changes and their impact on children's education.
"When parents read with their children, whatever the medium, they increase their child's enjoyment of reading which brings life-long benefits. Both practitioners and parents have a vital role to play in supporting children to read from an early age whether they use books or a touch screen."
Davina Ludlow, director of daynurseries.co.uk, said: " Our research shows public opinions on the supposed benefits of the use of ICT in nurseries are not in line with today's findings.
"In a recent poll carried out by daynurseries.co.uk, only one in four (26%) of the respondents thought children benefit from using ICT in nurseries.
"Our poll showed that the majority of people clearly want to see early education and childhood play protected from this technological change."
The conclusions come despite claims from leading scientists that exposure to too much technology can damage development.
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