Is reading a book on a tablet better for you?


I was in a meeting recently for the yearly annual review for one of my students. The parent was discussing with the group about how one of her children was reading books on their iPad through Bookshare, and was really enjoying it, while the other was having difficulty. The group discussed all the potential possibilities about why her one child was quite content to use the iPad and the other was not. Suggestions such as…”well she might not like the book” to “perhaps she is more interested in playing games on the iPad” (of course which child isn’t interested in playing games on their iPad?). As we discussed the various reasons, I sat and listened. Eventually I said “maybe she prefers a physical book?” The group looked at me and thought about it a moment. I continued “She’s a teenager and has been exposed to holding and reading a real book in her hand. There’s something different about reading a physical book versus one on a screen.” The group nodded in agreement and the parent agreed to trial a real book with her child.

I will state it now…I love technology! I love the infinite and amazing things that we can now do with technology. Everyday I feel like I learn something new and exciting that I can implement in not only my life, but also my job. This is especially true in my line of work – Occupational Therapy. For example, now people can have a more functional and realistic prosthetic hand (due in part to the advent of 3D printing). Apps are growing in numbers and capabilities. Written communication is diversifying and therefore making it easier for those who struggle with handwriting. There are so many cool things that you can now do with technology. Like I said…I love technology!

However….there are some drawbacks. I want to address the ones that pertain specifically to reading a physical book versus reading an e-book.

As someone who grew up in the pre-explosion of technology, I was accustomed to going to the library to check out a book. Holding it in my hands, it felt almost magical. I wanted to read the story and explore how the story would unfold. I particularly liked the “Choose your own adventure” books. I loved the idea of being able to make a choice to see how my decision would affect the outcome of MY story.  As I grew up and went off to  university, I would open up my textbook and peruse through the different tables, charts, pictures etc that would help explain the different components of what I was learning (I was a Biology Major before I became an OT). I used countless sticky notes to mark the pages so I could refer to them later. It was easy and effective for me.

With the advent of the iPad, I noticed that there appeared to be almost a division of those who liked to read an actual physical book to those who preferred to read an e-book. In some cases, the individuals who had transitioned to using an e-book, could simply not understand why one would continue to read a physical book.

So here we are…a general analysis of the “Physical book” versus the “e-Book

Physical book:


  • the crispness of opening a new book (although some prefer a worn book)
  • some books have and use manipulatives (especially for younger children) and require a physical book to properly convey the message or information
  • there is a not a glare on the reading page (easier on the eyes)
  • easier to locate marked pages in order to go back and locate the information
  • can physically highlight the pages


  • some books (especially textbooks are heavy)
  • can be more expensive than virtual books in some cases
  • more difficult for those individuals who have a difficult time sitting still long enough to read a book (I can completely relate)



  • can carry many books at one time (good for traveling)
  • great for the minimalist (no visual or physical clutter)
  • can highlight (depending on the program and textbook that you are using)
  • the size of the font can be adjusted (increase size, change font etc )
  • might be easier for children who have difficulty holding a physical book
  • easier to “read” when driving for long distances


  • difficult to locate items on a certain page or within the book
  • the glare of the screen (we spend so much time in front of the computer each and every day that our eyes need a chance to rest)
  • we have so many “screens” in our lives that we need to be looking at other options too
  • for younger children, they need manipulatives to learn and there are minimal opportunities for that
  • we do not use all of our senses which is important for learning
  • more difficult to convey the meaning of the information (ex more difficult with certain pictures, diagrams etc)
  • can be distracted by other programs on the device (ex apps, internet etc)


So in some cases, there is more of an individual preference versus a pro/con list when choosing a physical or an e-book. However, aside from instances where there is an actual specific need, use of a physical book is better for younger children for their developmental growth. As children grow up, the push or desire towards an e-book would be up to the reader but limiting screen time for a child in general should be accounted for.

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One Response to Is reading a book on a tablet better for you?

  1. Dianne Wrobel says:

    Great subject that we talk about as my daughter love the ebook being a flight attendant which allows her to have access to many books without the weight, I must have the paper version in my hand myself…generation gap?? Thank you for a great article. Congratulations on a super idea, long life and success


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