Tablet computers 'boost children's reading skills'

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Reading on tablet computers and smartphones offers a way into reading for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research.

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The study by the National Literacy Trust found that children from poorer homes who use tablet computers to look at stories, as well as reading books, do better at school than those who only read in print.

The results from the National Literacy Trust’s first annual early years survey, in collaboration with Pearson, highlight the dominant role played by technology in children’s communication and language skills both at home and in early years settings among the under-fives.

According to the reports, research shows that there are benefits to looking at or sharing stories using both print and touch screen compared to looking at stories in print alone.

The Trust carried out two separate surveys with early years practitioners and parents.

The online survey of 1,028 parents of three- to five-year-olds found that three-quarters of three- to-five-year-olds have access to tablets or smartphone technology at home.

During a typical week a quarter of all the children surveyed use touch screens to read or look at stories and nearly all children (95 per cent) read print-based stories at home.

The research also reveals that although children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to have access to touch-screens at home, those that do are more likely to use them than their better-off peers to look at or read stories on a touch-screen daily.

Across all social groups children that read on tablets as well as print enjoyed reading more than children who read in print only.

An online survey of 362 early years practitioners found that one in five of them said that children have access to tablet computers in their setting.

Most practitioners were positive about children using touch screen devices and the majority felt that it was important for children to learn how to use technology from an early age.

The survey also reveals a divide between private, voluntary and independent settings, which used touch-screens more frequently than those in the maintained sector.

The report claims that the majority of practitioners would like to increase the use of devices in their settings.

Lack of finances and resources were highlighted by practitioners as barriers to integrating touch screen technology in their early years settings.

A survey by Ofcom last year found that 28 per cent of three-and four-year-olds use a tablet computer.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, 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.’

Julie McCulloch, head of primary marketing at Pearson, said, ‘We are delighted to have collaborated with the National Literacy Trust on this important research project. Pearson is committed to helping people make progress in their lives through learning. Ensuring children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get off to a strong start in literacy is key to this commitment.

‘Technology is an integral part of today's childhood. We look forward to continuing to explore how we can harness its power to establish a lifelong love of reading in children.’

  • Practitioners can find tips on using technology to support children’s reading on screen and in print and for parents at www.wordsforlife.org.uk.