Keep it simple: books are not toys

There is a move in teaching and learning these days to make lessons as exciting as possible for children.  It is hard to disagree with this; children can’t learn if they are not engaged, and an hour with a pen, a book and a whiteboard is not going to get them very far.

However, at its most extreme there are inherent dangers in the classroom where the teacher becomes an entertainer, a performer, and the actual educational value of the lesson is hidden by the bells and whistles of the delivery.  A lesson is not a good lesson just because it involves an interactive whiteboard, a CD player, some large sheets of sugar-paper and a video camera.  In fact, if you are not careful, children come to the classroom and expect to be entertained.  They learn to switch off if they expected to find the interest for themselves.  And if this continues for too long, they do not possess the coping strategies to deal with the boring, repetitive, or demanding tasks that will inevitably arise as they grow older.

This is not to say that children should be intentionally bored in class, or that interactive, exciting lessons are wrong – clearly a good teacher and a creative lesson is much more likely to stick in the mind.  But we should not be afraid to let children learn in simpler, calmer, ways.  The skill of loving learning for learning’s own sake rather than because of the exciting delivery is a really crucial one if they are to maintain success throughout their school life.

So what does this have to do with books? Well, many books available today are what we might call ‘techno-books’.  They make noises, they talk, they have magic pens which ‘read’ the words, they light up, they are full of textures, they have buttons.  These probably have their place, and children often enjoy them, but do they just teach children to expect books to act like their toys? Do they teach them to demand more from a book than a book should be expected to offer?

These days you can also read books on your ipad and other tablet devices.  But should you? A huge part of the learning process of a book is its physicality.  The act of turning the page to find out what happens engages the child in the process of narrative – which is why flaps that are integrated into the story make for excellent books for babies and young toddlers.  An electronic device cannot replicate that.

A book is a wonderful thing when it consists of nothing more than the sum of its parts: pages, pictures and a good reader.  Techno-books do children a disservice when they suggest otherwise.

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