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Screen time for younger children is controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under 2 and an hour or less per day for kids between 2 and 5. For a lot of families, especially those with children of different ages, this can be a hard limit to enforce. Other families take a more nuanced approach, focusing on the types of activities (games, shows, books, video chats) their kids are engaged in, instead of counting screen time as a whole.
At my house, we do monitor our children’s total screen time, especially passive watching of videos. But I have found that ebooks are a great tool for getting kids engaged in reading, especially independent literacy practice at young ages. Here are some of our favorite ways to use ebooks for my kids, ages 7 and 4.
So many options!
The public library
The public library is an excellent source of free ebooks and audiobooks for readers of all ages. My library subscribes to Overdrive as well as Hoopla. Both of these services have a catalog of books that cardholders can check out. Overdrive has an free app, Libby, that can be downloaded to phones or tablets. It’s a simple way to get children’s ebooks for iPad or Android tablets. You can also read the books in your web browser on a computer.
There are some standard ebooks, and there are also some narrated picture books. My toddlers loved the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney in this format. Even though we read them together at bedtime, they still enjoyed having a different narrator reading.
These days, my 7-year-old has his library card info saved on his Chromebook and checks out lots of graphic novels and some audiobooks with a little bit of support to search the catalog. If you’re raising a struggling reader who has difficulty with independent reading, including ebooks in their reading time can be a great way to boost independence and grow their love of stories, even if the books they can read on their own aren’t at their grade level.
Finally, if we are going to be in the car a lot, for either a single road trip or a busy week of errands, I often let the kids choose an audiobook to play in the car from my phone. We have listened to some things just for them, like the Junie B. Jones books, and others that I enjoyed, too, like the Harry Potter series and Ramona and Beezus.
If the public library doesn’t have what you need, or if you want to avoid waiting for popular books to become available, you may want to invest in a ebook subscription service. Costs vary but it may be worth the investment if your children are devourers of books.
I like Epic Books both as a tutor and as a parent. If your child’s teacher has a free school-based subscription, you may be able to get Epic on a home device at no cost. If you want to subscribe on your own, check out the link here. For $9.99 a month, less if you pay for a whole year, the selection is pretty darn good. The collection of books is growing all the time and includes some great non-fiction titles, like National Geographic science books, as well as some excellent fiction and engaging graphic novels. You can search by topic, title, and reading level to find what you’re looking for. Their graphic novels are my go-to to entice reluctant readers to start reading with me.
Another popular service is Kindle Unlimited, which costs about $10 through Amazon and gives access to a large library of ebooks. A quick search shows 60,000 titles in the category “Children’s ebooks” and includes popular series like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. While there are some picture books in the collection, it seems to lean more heavily towards middle grades novels.
If your child has a learning disability or visual impairment, you may qualify to use a non-profit services like Learning Ally or Bookshare. These specialty services have the best catalogue of popular books as well as textbooks available in audio format. While they are often used with middle and high school readers looking to keep up with longer texts they struggle to read visually, some younger students may benefit as well.
With Learning Ally, parents can subscribe for a cost of about $12 a month, although schools also often create subscriptions for qualifying students. Bookshare is available to students at no cost, but needs to be set up through the school system.
I feel guilty sometimes giving my kids ebooks instead of hauling enough bags of books home from the library to keep them occupied. I wonder if I’m conditioning them to look for quick gratification when they can instantly download a book they want or click on a word they can’t pronounce to hear it.
But if the alternative is that they do omething else on a screen, instead of going to the shelf and picking up a book, I’ll take the ebooks any day! It makes my 4-year-old feel grown up to be reading on a borrowed tablet, and it limits my 7-year-old’s resistance to reading when he doesn’t have the book of his dreams on hand.
Ebooks for younger readers can be an excellent part of a varied reading diet and a great tool for parents looking to increase reading engagement and have a whole library at their fingertips!
Do you like reading on a screen or do you stick with paper? Comment below and let us know!