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Reading books with children is recognized as one of the most important contexts for language and literacy learning in early childhood. Literacy learning has been transformed by digital media that comes in the form of text, graphics, audio and video integrated into entertaining apps that can be delivered to children anywhere on mobile devices. Popular advice to parents is conflicting, ranging from enthusiastic support of educational apps to dire warnings of potential harm. What does the research say about e-books and learning apps for young children?

First, there is no evidence that babies and toddlers learn language from video and it is wise to limit “screen time” during the first two years.

For preschool age children, e-books and educational apps can be beneficial especially when an adult guides the child’s learning. Parents can read e-books with their child, commenting on the child’s actions and on the story, asking questions, and directing their child’s attention to important aspects of the text and  illustrations.

Not all “educational” apps are beneficial. The best apps integrate multimedia features in a way that is congruent with story or learning goal to support learning. Too many bells and whistles in an app can be distracting and interfere with learning. A good quality app will present content in a meaningful context that actively engages the child and allows for creative exploration rather than mere rote-learning. 

Many resources to support the selection and use of apps at home and school are now available on the web.