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Print vs. e-books at bedtime

Bryson Somers, age 2, sits on his mom

Bryson Somers, age 2, sits on his mom Kimberly Somers's lap while playing on the iPad at home in Middle Island. (Nov. 16, 2011) Credit: Heather Walsh

Q. Is it just as beneficial to read to my preschooler using an e-reader or tablet as it is to read to him from a physical print book?

A. "There's a divide in the field," says Dana Friedman, president of the Plainview-based Early Years Institute, a regional nonprofit devoted to improving school readiness.

Those who promote e-books argue that sound effects and animations can improve comprehension and help children decode words and meaning, Friedman says.

But those in the opposing camp say the bells and whistles can be a distraction that takes away from comprehension. "Kids are more concerned with which button to push instead of the meaning of the sentence," Friedman says. "They're not learning what a book is, what the elements of a book are -- a page with words and pictures."

Detractors also say that reading a physical book promotes fine motor skills -- children learn how to turn pages. Experts also often encourage children to follow along the words of a sentence with their fingers, and kids can't do that on an e-reader because the screen may change and move, Friedman says.

Friedman's professional opinion: If you use an e-reader, be sure you read the story to your child yourself and don't use an automated audio option (unless the parent is not a native English speaker, in which case it can be beneficial). Be sure to still snuggle with your child while reading to promote emotional bonding. And use e-books as a supplement to print and not a replacement.

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