A new study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop examines the way young children relate to stories they encounter in print versus on an e-reader. Though the sample size was small – 32 families with children ages 3 to 6 participated – the findings suggest some interesting considerations for e-book manufacturers, educators, and families.

Researchers explored how advances in e-book technology might relate to parent-child storytelling, or co-reading. They found that children who read enhanced e-books recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story – though across all formats, youngsters performed nearly equally when asked to explain a critical element in the story. The enhanced e-book was less effective than the print and basic e-book in supporting the benefits of co-reading, because it prompted more non-content-related interactions. The print books were more advantageous for literacy-building co-reading, whereas the e-books, particularly the enhanced e-book, more effectively engaged children and prompted physical interaction.

Based on these findings, the study’s authors suggest a few courses of action in addition to further research. They recommend that e-book designers exercise caution when adding enhancements, especially those that do not directly relate to the story. These enhancements should be designed so that parents can access and control settings to customize the co-reading experience.

Parents and preschool teachers, meanwhile, should choose print or basic e-books to read with children if they want to prioritize literacy-building experiences over ones intended “just for fun,” because some e-book enhancements may distract adults as well as children alike from the story. On the other hand enhanced e-books may be valued for their ability to prompt less motivated young.

Click here for more on the study and on the Cooney Center.