Story Time During the Pandemic
New study shows benefits of reading to children over video chat
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
a lovely bookshelf on the wall.
— Roald Dahl in his classic children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Though published in 1964, Dahl’s words continue to reflect the attitudes and concerns of parents when it comes to balancing how much time children spend looking at books compared to a screen. Parents have grown accustomed to reports on the news of yet another academic study that heralds the benefits of books while warning against excessive screen time.
However, as the world has come to learn these past few months, pandemics make for strange bedfellows. More than ever, families are embracing some combination of books and screens during virtual story times, often with teachers, grandparents, or other caring adults reading to young children whom they can no longer see in person.
For parents worried about the long-term effects this additional screen time may have on their children, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, remote story time using video chat software may be just as beneficial to the intellectual and academic development of young children as reading with an adult in person. The study was co-authored by Caroline Gaudreau, doctoral student in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Chair and professor in the School of Education, and their academic colleagues at universities across the country.
“We know that lots of family members and friends are video chatting with kids right now,” said Gaudreau. “Our research suggests that reading storybooks to kids over video chat is one activity that can promote learning, especially during a pandemic.”
Screen time or Story time?
When Golinkoff, Gaudreau and their partners started collaborating on this research project back in 2018, they had no idea that a global pandemic would shut down the economy and compel families to shelter in place for weeks or months on end. For Golinkoff, this was yet another multi-year research project that promised to broaden our understanding of how well children learn using digital technology. With a staff of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate research assistants in the Child’s Play, Learning and Development Lab, Golinkoff usually has multiple studies underway at any given time.