Interactive books with pop-up pictures and pull-tab features give kids more to do with a book than just look at a page. But while it would stand to reason that with more to do, a child would be more engaged and therefore more likely to learn something from a book, experts say that’s just not the case. In fact, new new research finds that all that popping up and pulling open is actually a distraction and that these interactive books are inferior to traditional ones when it comes to imparting lessons to pre-readers.
In two experiments led by University of Virginia psychologist Medha Tare, young children were separated into groups and given one of three different types of pictures books about animals. One group looked at books illustrated with drawings of animals, another looked a books illustrated with photographs of animals and a third group was given pop-up books and encouraged to interact with the features.
The first experiment involved kids ages 18 to 22 months. Each child was assigned a experimenter who repeatedly pointed out a particular bird in the book – either a parrot or a flamingo. The name of the bird was repeated several times while the experimenter pointed to the corresponding image.
After looking at the book for three to five minutes, each child was shown a different illustration of the same type of bird that had been pointed out in the book as well as two miniature bird toys. When asked to identify the bird that the experimenter had shown them in the book, their success rate varied depending upon which type of book they had been looking at.
Those who looked at the book illustrated with photographs were able to correctly identify the bird nearly 80% of the time. Those who looked at the book with drawings got the right bird about 70% of the time. But the kids who had the pop-up books could only identify the correct bird about half the time, which is no better than chance.
In the second experiment, children ages 27 to 32 months were given the same three types of books to look at while an experimenter recited certain facts about the animals in the books. The results were the same. The kids who looked at photograph books recalled the infromation more than the kids who looked at pop-up books.
What it comes down to, say the researchers, is that playing with the tabs and flaps prevented the children from grasping the other aspect of what they were seeing – pictures of birds. In addition, the concentration involved in playing with the pop-up books combined with the information they were receiving from the experimenters resulted in cognitive overload.
While this may mean that pop-up books shouldn’t be be considered eduational, I don’t think it means they have no value. Kids love them and time spent opening flaps and pulling tabs is certainly enjoyable time. And even if they don’t learn what a flamingo looks like, they do learn how to grasp and open and slide and, most of all, enjoy a book.
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