A report published yesterday by the British Psychological Society (BPS) offers a compelling illumination on the use of interactive books for learning purposes with pre-literate children. The study found that interactive features in non-fiction children’s books, such as lift-the-flap functionality, may hinder toddlers from learning new words.

Dr Jeanne Shinskey from the University of London, said: “Many educational picture books for toddlers often feature manipulatives like flaps or texture to encourage interaction, but do these actually help toddlers to learn new words? We wanted to test how a commercially-available book with or without flaps affected 2-year-olds’ learning of a new word for an unfamiliar object.”

Toddlers from the study were split into two groups, one group of children with a book containing a flap, and another group with an identical book that did not have the flap. Researchers asked parents to identify a star fruit – a fruit identified by parents as being unfamiliar to the toddlers – and afterwards they were shown pictures and 3D replicas of the fruit amongst other unfamiliar fruits to see if they would recognise the name ‘starfruit’. The results? Young children who looked at the book without the flaps were more likely to identify the starfruit.

Dr Shinskey said: “Books with these sort of features are very popular with parents who hope the interactive feature will aid learning and enjoyment of reading. However, if parents want their children to learn factual information about the world from books, it doesn’t appear to help to make books more toy-like by adding 3D features. This seems to enhance their tendency to treat books as just another type of physical toy, rather than a tool for learning.

“As the findings suggest young children can find these features in a book distracting we would recommend having a range of books available so children learn to love reading as well as learning more about the world around them.”

The study has fascinating correlations with other ‘entertainment’ style reading experiences which can be had, particularly on electronic tablets. The findings suggest that stories containing games, bells and whistles may be less effective for children’s learning than simply curling them up on your lap and reading to them without the distractions.