In the last blog post, I looked at the question of teaching kids to read by looking at the characteristics of the Alpha Generation (born 2010-2024). Alpha kids are second-generation digital natives and technology is woven into their daily lives.
THE DIGITAL IMPERATIVE: Develop Digital Readers
I think the question needs to change:
FROM: How do we develop readers?
TO: How do we develop digital readers
This new question will allow us to meet the needs of the Alpha kids.
One stark fact stares us in the face: digital readers should have digital texts.
Think about this: would YOU allow someone to take your smart phone away for a day? No! I’d be lost. It’s a habit to consult my phone (after all it’s a mini-computer) for the weather, the time, photos of family, short messages from friends on apps, email, and to ask Google multiple questions. If I, as an analog native, do this, how much more natural will it be for the AlphaKids?
Think about this: given a choice between Minecraft and a print book, which would an Alpha kid choose? Minecraft. It’s the tech they know and love. When we ONLY offer a print book, we handicap stories and reading.
So many articles bemoan the competition that books and reading have: TV, videos, video games, online streaming, and etc. But they never put books into a head-to-head competition with other forms of entertainments.
What if we put an eBook or audiobook up against Minecraft?
We still might lose. But it’s a more fair comparison for the Alpha kids.
And yet - we don’t offer eBooks or audiobooks, held back by our own biases toward print. Our ideas about screen time need to be re-examined.
CHANGING IDEAS ABOUT SCREEN TIME
The Pew Research Center has studied how parents view screen time after the pandemic. From March 2020 to April 2021, kids ages five to eleven increased their screen time by 68%.
First, parents understand the value of screen time. The report says:
“The increased time spent at home together as a family showed adults more clearly what kids are actually doing on their devices. “Instead of saying, ‘He’s been playing Minecraft for three hours, and I wish he could do something else,’ they started to look at what they were creating and realized that it was pretty remarkable,'” says Kleeman.”
Parents do worry about misinformation, security, and people exploiting kids’ screen time. They also worry about creating a balance between a child’s online and offline worlds.
As they become more involved in kids’ screen time activities, parents want the activity to be more aligned to learning goals.
Digital reading with eBooks or audiobooks is the perfect way to ensure safety and increase learning. It’s time to squarely let eBooks or audiobooks go head-to-head with other online activities. If we restrict reading to only print books, we separate it from a kid’s reality! If we offer ebooks and games, and encourage a balance between them, we’re more likely to develop good readers!
We need to recognize this and give them ebooks or audiobooks. So, let’s deal with some objections.
OBJECTIONS TO SCREEN TIME
Preschool v. Elementary. Wait. I thought kids weren't supposed to be spending that much time on screens. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, in 2020 suggest
• Between 18 and 24 months screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
• For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
• For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
For preschool, the key is to limit screen time. But by elementary school, kids are reading screens in the classroom anyway. The key is to develop moderation and balance, as in any activity.
IF you allow screen time, you should ask is it better to read an ebook or play an online game?
In practical matters, we must say that millions of parents will allow millions of kids to play online games – they already do as detailed above. If you want reading and a love of reading to compete with games, then level the playing field and give kids ebooks. Alpha kids need their reading texts to be digital to integrate with the rest of their lives.
Let’s rethink our goals and strive to create Digital Readers.
Check out eBooks from Mims House Books.