Are eBooks for kids?

Are eBooks good for kids who are learning how to read? Said another way, are eBooks as good as print books for kids who are learning how to read?

This NY Times article has some thoughts from eReading parents on the matter. I sense a bit of ambivalence about eText in their answers. There is a sense that eBooks are great for established readers but may somehow diminish the reading experience for younger kids.

My daughter is four and a half. She is starting to read. I kind of expected this to happen sooner rather than later. Of greater surprise to me, she is also starting to exhibit a writing mania. She sits at the table for long stretches of time, sometimes an hour or so, copying words from objects near her on the table.

Today I got a drawing entitled “The Power Dad”. Yesterday’s picture was Yoplait-themed. Saturday’s was “Pink Panther Cartoon Classics”. You get the idea.

As a parent, my job is to worry about stuff I have no control over. My daughter loves books, but occasionally I worry that she isn’t spending as much time with paper books as I did when I was a kid. She reads paper books a lot but also spends a good deal of time playing iPad, watching PBS kids’ shows and playing Wii. This is in addition to hours of unstructured high imagination time. I don’t specifically worry that she isn’t loving books enough. She loves books. She treats books well and handles them as important possessions. The interesting thing is that she reads on the iPad nearly as often as she reads on the page. And the iPad apps are interactive, encouraging letter tracing, word sounds and pattern recognition.

Anecdotally, I’d say her iPad reading has contributed greatly to her early reading success and has fostered a early fondness for constructing words as well. So, no worries about eBooks or other eText experiences somehow ruining her mind. She will learn to read soon and well because her home life is supportive of reading.

And that gets me to my more specific concern. I have read studies (need to cite here…) which indicate that the greatest predictor of future academic ability is the presence of books in the home. Does that include invisible eBooks or print only?

My guess is that a home where print books are ubiquitous is more likely to be a home where reading is commonplace. Reading is in the water and gets into the DNA at an early age. This probably comes from seeing parents read. I remember growing up and watching my dad read books. I remember enjoying reading my own books while he was reading his. So here’s the thing: if most of my reading is done on the iPad or other eReading device, how can my daughter differentiate the times I am reading a novel  from the times I am reading the “news” (for me, RSS feeds) from the times I am playing Word Dash, Traffic Rush or some other frivolous thing?

Reading is a personal thing, but the image of someone reading is very public. That changes with eReaders. Wonder what the impact will be and how much that will matter?