What do they think I'm doing on that tablet?
September 20, 2018 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Can I effectively model reading for my young children while mostly using a Kindle or iPad for my own reading?

I want my kids to see reading as something fun that grown-ups do throughout their life. Growing up, I saw my parents reading constantly, and I think I internalized the idea that reading is a respectable grown-up activity very early on. So far, our oldest (3.5) enjoys reading with his parents, which we do most nights for about 10-20 minutes before bedtime. These are all regular old-style books. We don't really read much together at other times of the day.

They see me reading on my own fairly often, but 99% of the time on a kindle or an ipad, not something that's recognizably a book. They see me reading on my phone a lot as well, though this is usually either metafilter or a newspaper article. I rarely have any videos or music playing on my phone or ipad, just text.

So I have gotten to wondering if they'll connect my reading with the kind of reading they do, or begin to think of reading books as something only for little kids? I wouldn't particularly mind if they read on a kindle when they get old enough to move beyond picture books, but I worry that they'll just see tablets/phones as video/gaming devices once they're a little older, and figure that's what I do all the time.

So should I switch back to paper books? Explain to them I'm reading when I'm on a tablet? Just not worry about it? Trust that they'll make the distinction at an appropriate age?
posted by skewed to Education (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
YMMV, but my stepkids invariably assume that "looking at a phone/ipad" is playing a game or watching videos, and they are 8 and 5. My stepson once said, quite sincerely, that he never saw us reading because he didn't see us reading physical books, even though we both read quite a lot. We've made an effort to switch back to books at least some of the time so they can see that we do in fact read for pleasure.
posted by Kpele at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

You could maybe find picture books to read to them on a Kindle Kids Edition?
posted by BungaDunga at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

My suggestion would be, just have children’s AND adult paper books available within reach. All kinds, too—cookbooks, how to manuals, novels (even if they don’t really understand them yet). When I was a child I spent hours thumbing through my parents’ grown up book collection.
posted by shalom at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2018 [14 favorites]

have children’s AND adult paper books available within reach

...and magazines.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a young toddler, and I've been thinking a lot about this very question!

1) I read e-books on my Kindle (I don't consider browsing online on my phone to be reading for this particular purpose).

2) I plan to be very clear that a Kindle = reading books in the future. We'll probably check out some children's books from our library's digital collection at some point and "read" them together on my Kindle to strengthen that association.

3) I do make an effort to read physical books around my daughter as well, when we have a physical copy of the book (I'd read even more stuff on my Kindle, honestly, if I wasn't thinking about this).

We also do other stuff to encourage reading (reading together a lot, having a wide variety of books and reading material available, etc).

I'm really interested in other people's answers to this question.
posted by warble at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

What kind of a kindle do you use? Would using an e-ink Kindle, if you don't already, make it more "recognizably a book"? I would think so, because you'd never be doing anything else on that kindle so it's much less ambiguous. Plus they're just plain better at being e-readers anyways.
posted by mosst at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have a (now discontinued) case for my Kindle that makes it look like a book. I'm sure there are others like it, which may help strengthen the connection that kindle = reading.
posted by matrixclown at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

Book talk is important. Doesn't sound like you have a co-parent, but if you have another adult who's part of your child's life, maybe make an effort to have book related conversations with that person around your child? Or when your child is assigned books in school, or any reading, see if you can read it too, and discuss it. Not in a quizzy way, but more fun commentary on what you think the characters are like outside the world of the book, choices the author made, etc. So that it seems more like books are an organic part of life, not just assignments.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

I have my kindle housed inside a paper notebook. Because I like it that way, it feels more like a book, I can write a note or two if I want, and it provides protection.

A side benefit is it looks like I am reading a paper book.
Yes you can buy cases like this but I preferred to spend a few dollars and a few minutes with some tape and a knife, rather than $30-50 for a fake book cover that I can’t even write in, YMMV.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please forgive me, but although I'm not a parent, I've lived with a couple of parents, and they _always_ underestimated my ability to just understand, and take seriously, human speech.

What I'm getting at is maybe, if you just told them that you are frequently reading when you look at your device, and that you found it fun, they would not only believe you, but remember this and consider it when they observe you looking at the device.

Then, when they see you looking at your device, they will probably think, "Oh, hey, [parent] is probably reading _again_."

I'm not sure that a whole theatrical, prop-heavy production of "Mom or Dad Reads In An Old-Fashioned Way" is needed?
posted by amtho at 12:27 PM on September 20, 2018 [9 favorites]

I mean, you could and shoul absolutely include saying such things. But what's also not clear when a parent or anyone is sitting looking at a tablet is what they are looking at. And, you know, some of the time, it's none-of-yer-damn-bizness. But, seeing a parent read something and know what it is – a lengthy history book about the Underground Railroad, a newspaper, a thriller, a Dummies Guide to Drones – is interesting information and can spark discussion.

I love this question, actually. We are a heavy reading house but also have devices everywhere. Luckily, our daughter has really taken off in her reading abilities and interest in it and so is coming home every week with books from the library and taking the time herself. We are also always checking books out of the library that we mumblemumble sometimes never get around to reading but are everywhere in stacks.

One thing that you could try is making a regular "quiet time" daily or weekly where everyone reads or writes or draws quietly. Model using this time to read. You could even say out loud, like amtho suggests, that you are reading a good book about X on your Kindle.
posted by amanda at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing: You are trying to make your kids think you are reading what you think a book looks like, not what your kids think a reading a book looks like.

A couple years ago my then 6 year old daughter asked why the Phone app icon looked the way it did on my iPhone. I explained why ("in ye olden days there was a part you dialed, then there was a different part you placed by your ear..."), and she looked at me with a confused looked at said something along the lines of: That's kinda weird, why don't they just make it look like a phone?

My point is: there is a chance your kids you are going think: Why is my parent reading a book, but doing a bunch of weird stuff to make them look like they are doing something else??? They might not even put 2 +2 together that the thing you are doing is what old people did when they read books.
posted by sideshow at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

As a parent, I wanted to elaborate on amtho's suggestion that you start by just talking about what you are doing. Just make it a point, whenever you are reading in their presence (especially if it is a book) to mention that. Like, "thank you for playing quietly, I was really enjoying my book about exploring jungles" or "what were you doing while I was reading my book about how to code computers better?" or "look at the time - it is hard to put down a book when it is interesting" Of course, you don't always need to say what you are reading but I think there is also value to giving them a hint of what grownups find worth reading since they can't see the book jacket.

You can also talk about your experiences when you are engage in theirs. For example, find an opportunity to talk about how you get your books or the how you decide what to read next. All become little clues what an adult reading habit looks like.
posted by metahawk at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Here is some research that indicates, no, type of material does not matter when it comes to modeling for children
posted by Ideal Impulse at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your kids know you're reading.

They can hear that there isn't a game because there is no sound and you don't have your earbuds in. You're not making any noise. Your finger isn't always moving, only every minute or so repeating the motion of swiping the page. You look like you're thinking when you're reading - your facial expressions tell them you're reading. They know.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

I also call my kindle “my book” when I need help looking for it, or tell kid not to knock it off the table or whatever. Kid calls it a book, I do have a bookish case on it. I’m not sure he even knows the word kindle and he’s nearly 6.
posted by Swisstine at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was one of the reasons I stopped using my e-reader at home. I want my kids to see me unambiguously reading books & magazines. If I'm reading on a device then as far as they know I could just be on Metafilter.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:39 PM on September 20, 2018

Talk about the books you’re reading.
posted by Segundus at 2:55 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Before my eyes went and got all old, I would read 1-3 books a week. Now my eyes tire quickly unless the font is rather large, my books are read in AudioBook format on phone phone -- pretty much exclusively for books. I'm a single, full time working parent to a 5 year old so my free time is almost nil. Being able to read while I wash dishes, fold laundry, drive in the car, clean the house, is a freaking life saver, I tell you what.

There's pretty much not a single day that goes by that I don't listen my audiobooks. I've just told my daughter that I'm reading or "listening to my story" when she's asked what I'm doing. I explained that some people read books, some people listen to the books, and some people read books on the computer or tablet. She took that at face value. She's even asked me what the story is about every once in awhile, so I know she gets it.
posted by crayon at 5:22 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

our facial expressions tell them you're reading. They know.

Yes! And it's so annoying! My five-year-old catches me out all the time.

"What are you doing on your phone?"
"I'm reading an article about XYZ." (True at the time, I never lie about it.)
*3 minutes later*
"You're not reading anymore, you're playing a game, can I play too???"
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:47 AM on September 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sorry, that's not an answer, I meant to say as well that you should just do whatever you do with a physical book, and they'll figure it out. If they ask what you're doing, show them the screen full of words, but I think it'll only take one or two times to establish a pattern, and then they'll always be able to identify when you're reading.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:50 AM on September 21, 2018

While the specific issue of e-readers versus paper has not yet been studied, there has been some interesting research into factors that help to create literate children. Having parents who are educated counts for a lot, but the shocker for many is how much available reading material is in the home. Books, magazines, newspapers, comics; all of these things serve to provide the literacy-rich environment that will help create strong readers.

I think having said that and since e-readers have not yet been studied, I would err on the side of more paper-based reading material in the home. Part of the connection seems to be based on the ready availability of things to choose from, skim, and select for investigation. E-readers may provide that but it's screen-based, which is definitely different than holding texts.

Study is here.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry if derail, but reading the other great answers got me thinking - when did we decide as a culture that the form of "book" is the only reading with any value (or is the pinnacle of value)?

Reading forums, essays, online magazines, news sites, play or movie scripts, even Reddit for god's sake, can open up your world to the experiences of others, and give you insights on your own, as much or more than many books.

Books are not inherently good or bad, they are a particular kind of presentation of someone's thoughts or research product. Maybe that would be a good topic of converation with your child?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:07 AM on September 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I worry about this too! I do almost all of my reading via audiobook, which means my kids see me with headphones in a lot, but not often with a book in my hands. I try to listen out loud on a speaker whenever I can (and when appropriate - some of my books are violent or steamy), and I try to talk to my wife about book as often as I can. I attend a book club every month and I talk about that, and book club comes to my house once a year, so I try to make sure my kids know that's happening too. I still don't know if it's enough, but it's what I have so far.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:23 AM on September 21, 2018

Put up a white board in your house, or a big chart or something, and every day everyone in the family writes (or you write for the kids too young to write) what they've read that day. Then talk about it at dinner together.

They'll see you reading, everyone gets daily visible confirmation that reading is happening, you reinforce it by talking about reading.

Books are great, reading is great. Share how much you love reading with your kids.
posted by phunniemee at 5:14 AM on October 4, 2018

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