Recently I got asked to give my view about buying a kindle or a cheap tablet for a child’s tenth birthday. I found myself saying the usual things from a techy point of view: Tablets have really come down in price and you can do a lot on them, they still tend to have much shorter battery life though whereas Ereaders tend to keep going for days and weeks. Of course we aren’t often away from a power source so maybe recharging shouldn’t be any part of your deliberation. Tablets can be kindles anyway – you just load the kindle app and join to your amazon account. You can have up to eight devices on the one account. But there are some non-technical reasons you might favour a kindle.
A kindle is a dedicated reading device. Pick it up and you won’t be thinking after three pages, “I wonder if I have any new emails?” You won’t get a push notification in the middle of a beautiful moment or a tense scene that ZYBCFDS41 has played their turn in Words with friends and it’s your move. And you won’t be told there is a new version of Angry Birds waiting for you to buy at the app store.
It is important for children to develop a sustained reading ability. After they’ve learned to read the next step is becoming a ‘distance reader’. They do this by entering the world of a story, being gripped by it and excluding everything else. They learn the rewards of reading and their reading stamina increases. A short reading attention span limits future study skills and can be a real liability in the work force.A tablet isn’t likely to develop that sustained reading skill.
Most parents limit computer time but we don’t tend to limit reading time. If you give a child a kindle you won’t be asking them to switch it off after half an hour. Another little known fact about tablets is that they almost work like caffeine on kids. The way they are lit means they stimulate wakefulness. Your tablet might be great to check in bed in the morning to help you wake but chances are it isn’t helping you get all rest you need at night. Give a kid a kindle before bed and they’ll get tired in the same way they would reading a paper book.
Soooooo kindle vs tablet? They are different beasts. The kindle is like vegetables, you can’t really get enough. The tablet is like cake – you need to be aware how much you consume. In an ideal household, with an unlimited budget, I’d make the tablet a treat after chores were done and limit the time on it.