How to Use Digital Media to Enhance Your Child’s Reading Experience

In an age of digital television and streaming video, our society’s appetite for story seems insatiable. Television and movie producers, searching for material to take advantage of this appetite, have raided children’s library shelves. Muggles, hobbits, grinches, teen-age princesses, talking pigs, friendly hippopotami, and all manner of characters are jumping from the pages of children’s picture books and novels onto your television and movie screens.

Here are some suggestions that will help ensure that your children’s experience with digital media will enhance their reading pleasure:

  • Read the book first. Read picture books and novels aloud to your kids whenever possible. Encourage older kids to read a novel on which a movie is based before they see the movie or video with their friends. Why? Books are generally much better written than movies. Your child will meet inspiring characters and gain a rich vocabulary when reading a story in a book.
  • A book is the most interactive medium your kids will ever encounter. It makes them think. It stimulates their imaginations. Give your kids the opportunity to see a story in their mind first, before a movie production company dictates a visualization of that story.
  • Suggested Activity: After your kids have read a book, and before they see the movie, have some family fun with scrap paper and markers by having them create their own visual interpretation of the story. Give each child a scene from the book to illustrate. Encourage them to draw the characters, setting, and action in great detail and full color. Then, tape all the drawings up on a wall in the order the scenes appear in the book. As a family, read each corresponding scene aloud from the book, making your own visual experience come alive.
  • Make sure that books and movies are age appropriate for your children. A story in a book only half belongs to an author. The other half belongs to the reader. When reading a book, your child controls the visual interpretation of a story, unconsciously limiting or expanding aspects of the book that please, amuse, or scare him. When a parent reads a story aloud, security is ever present and assured. That is why parents can read books to their children that are a couple of years beyond their grade level. Not so with movies and television. In a movie, an adult who does not know your child is feeding him or her predetermined visual images that may be far more violent than anything your child has imagined. Do not assume that your younger child’s comfort level with a book automatically carries over to a movie interpretation of that book. Make sure you read responsible reviews and get an impression of the movie from trusted friends before you take your child to the theater. But you know your child’s personality and needs best, so use your best judgment.
  • After your children have seen the movie, have a conversation with them about the movie and the book. Talk about what they like and do not like about the movie in comparison with the book. Help them to understand that a movie is a different “medium” than a book, that a direct translation of the story is impossible given the time requirements. Ask them if the characters, scenes, and action in the movie are the same or different from their visualization of the story. Ask them which interpretation of the story they like best.
  • If you and your child should see a movie before reading the book it is based on, run to your nearest library, get the book, and read it together. I’m betting you will enjoy the book more!

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance