From Digital Pacifiers to Brain Vitamins, how to buy eBooks for your kids

By Sherry Maysonave

Ebooks are not only fun for kids, but they’re also unique teaching tools. Digital media offer children a whole new way to learn. Some people mistakenly think of ebooks as digital pacifiers when, in fact, they’re actually vitamins for the brain and can open up whole new stimulating worlds for children.

Parents can maximize this opportunity by selecting ebooks and games that blend education with entertainment. Look for products that grow your child’s skill level, such as ones with expansive vocabulary. Another key is to seek products that incorporate the three primary learning modalities—visual, audio, and kinesthetic— all at one time, which creates a multi-sensory experience.

Here are six tips for using interactive ebooks to engage your kids both mentally and emotionally:

1) Visual Sense:
Choose illustrated ebooks that are visually-rich, those having artful (not merely stick-figure kiddy art) and colorful graphics to fully engage children visually and to stimulate their imaginations.

2) Audio Sense:
Select ebooks that have two modes of reading:
Read to Me mode: narration with enhanced sound—music and sound effects. Narrators should exhibit perfect enunciation and have healthy, positive voice tones. Tap words to hear them over again. Narration will begin again from that point as many times as tapped.
Read Myself mode.

To optimize audio integration, allow children to first enjoy and explore the narrated version with enhanced sound. Then, encourage reading alone. To further practice oral reading skills, host auditions for “best narrators.” Use recorders or smart phones to tape children’s versions. Encourage them to get creative by adding fun sound effects and music along with their narration. Parents may record for younger children who are not yet reading advanced vocabulary. Involve them and make it theirs by including their voice on the recording. Have them read, speak, or repeat after you, some of the words or short sentences.

3) Kinesthetic Sense:
Encourage tapping and touching of the screen to activate kinesthetic and interactive components. To maximize these features, have kids zoom in and out on art images, tap for duplication or animation of images, and tap words for definitions. For hands-on activities, iPad users can take screen shots of illustrations, then print them in black and white for kids to color, paint, trace, copy, and/or cut out.

4) Emotional Components:
A. Host a live chat to discuss stories and illustrations with children. Use the power of questions by asking what’s their favorite illustration? And why? How well does it match the story text? What would they choose to draw if they were the illustrator? Inquire about their favorite words, etc. Avoid asking, “What did you learn?”
B. Support the hero in your child. Develop their subjective thinking skills by helping them analyze the subtler life lessons typically embedded in children’s narratives. Kids do not always integrate what we think they will. Help them come to positive conclusions by asking them questions about the main character or characters, asking what they liked about them/him/her and didn’t like about them. Ask how they would respond to the dilemma or conflict if they were that character.

5) Language Development:
Give kids a choice of two illustrations from an ebook or have them select two favorites. Then have them write a new story, poem, song, screenplay, or sit-com script based upon the illustrations and what the images inspire in their imagination. Older kids can be required to have a lexical humor slant to their story, poem, screenplay, or TV show script and/or to choose a genre such as comedy or drama.

6) Memory and Family Fun:
Further develop kids’ memory and integration by extending the subject matter into family time by playing games, such as charades, using vocabulary-rich phrases from selected ebooks your children enjoy. A family/friends version of Who’s Smarter than a Fifth Grader can be played using the Fun Facts that some ebooks provide. To enhance family-dinner conversations and stimulate imagination, take a key sentence from kids’ favorite ebooks, and then create a new story from there. Family members can contribute in round-robin IMPROV style until new story is complete. Parents must participate and appear to enjoy. Kids will mimic parents’ attitudes.

MRI studies show that the use of imagination and multi-sensory experiences that ebooks can offer actually increase blood flow to the brain. Blood flow is connected to neuronal activity where new synapses can be created and dormant ones reactivated. Brains are not static; they can, and do, change.

So make your kids smarter by employing electronic devices as fun, learning tools rather than just digital pacifiers.

Sherry Maysonave is the author of the children’s ebook, “EggMania: Where’s the Egg In Exactly.” Visit her online at: www.maniatales.com.

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