With respect to babies and motor skill development, there are pros and cons to electronic books.  With the rise of electronic tablets such as iPads in both homes and schools, babies and toddlers are increasingly exposed to them.  Sometimes a curious infant gets her hands on one in order to examine whatever mom or dad is using, sometimes she is handed the iPad to entertain her, and sometimes mom reads her an e-book on the electronic tablet.   The pros and cons of using these devices remain uncertain since they are new inventions and it takes a few years to develop and carry out research studies.   It will take a few more years before we know what studies reveal about the use of these “tools” for baby play and children’s learning.

With the absence of much research, the next best information sources are the opinions of various professionals who have worked with babies and children in the field of human development.  Two recent Wall Street Journal articles, “What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out On An iPad,” and “Once Upon a (Virtual)Time,” attempt to do just that.  Written by a father whose own son liked to zone out on his Daddy’s iPad, author Ben Worthen consults experts in neuroscience and child development as well as other parents on the topic of children and electronic tablets.


The Pros of iPad use apply primarily to toddlers and children, rather than babies.  For example, one obvious benefit with tablets is that touch screen technology remains accessible to young users whose fingers are not large enough to manipulate a mouse or keyboard.  For toddlers and young children, some studies show noticeable increase in vocabulary with the use of certain apps.  Another benefit for toddlers is that the ipad directs their focus. They are drawn to touch the screen where the action occurs.  With a TV set toddlers look away from it about 150 times an hour, according to WSJ, because they do not know where on the screen to focus their eyes and attention.  Thus, the iPad may be a better entertainment option than a TV set for toddlers and children.  Several parents express the entertainment value of the iPad with their child for long airplane flights or other occasions where they would like to keep the child quiet for long periods of time.  Please read our post “TV and Babies” for more information about the effects of television on baby’s development.


I’m writing about the Cons of electronic tablet use with the idea that the optimal developmental experience for babies and children includes some exposure to electronics. However, ultimately, encouraging physical and cognitive development is the most important consideration when making choices for baby’s toys and children’s gadgets.  Some developmental experts express concerns that the electronic tablets cut short the process of exploration since the app programs have ending points whereas play time with toys such as blocks may continue until the child decides she is finished.

The WSJ article suggests that more learning takes place during the reading of board books because of the dialog exchange between parent and baby or toddler.  The parent can observe what the baby is interested in and prompt further learning such as, “I see you like the dog.  Is she sleeping like our dog sleeps?  Where is the dog on this page?”, etc.

Here are some additional points for parents to keep in mind.  Remember that babies are still developing their eyesight and, with an electronic tablet, the eyes remain focused within the limits of the small screen.  Toys and board books encourage more eye movement because the dimensions of the visual playing or reading field are much larger than a tablet screen. Board book skills use more muscles and joints in the body than ebooks which primarily use finger tapping.

Books for babies are an integral part of speech development as well.  Babies often hear parents read the story and focus on their face and lips rather than the book. They are fascinated with how mommy creates words and closely watch the shapes of her lips and try to imitate them.  If the ebook is reading to baby she is not able to observe the process of how speech occurs.   For these reasons, Stellar Caterpillar highly recommends that parents include board books in baby’s first library.

For more in our series on babies and technology, please read “TV and Babies,” “Electronic Gadgets Pose Safety Risk,” and “Baby Toys:  Unplugged vs. Electronic.”



  1. The thing is they all need an adult to help them and show them how to use them anyways. Example try siinttg down to read my 13 month old a normal book she tried to eat it and tear the pages. She has a My First LeapPad, and if I sit down with her while she claps and touches the things on the pages (because they make noises and talk to her) we can actually read a whole book together. Also, she has a Care Bear that reads stories to her, and we sit down and she’s so interested in the bear and listening to us (because the bear is interactive) she will read the whole book with me. Same thing with the Vsmile which she has played with at her cousin’s house with me (she’s getting one for Christmas). When people use them to replace their connection with their children it’s disgusting. But we use them to enhance her learning and OUR connection as a family. I think it’s great!

    • You are pointing out one of the most important points–that technology should not be used to replace quality time with family. I really appreciate you sharing which e-books you are using and will share that info with others. I recommend the balance of having some e-books and some board books because in life not everything is going to blink and sing when you touch it, as it does on an e-book. Both experiences best prepare baby for life. Thanks, Alexandra for sharing your experiences with baby and technology.

      • They are. We ban all electronic toys from our house as well as any computer games, TV, etc. All that stuff is designed to make money- not to make our kids smarter. My daughter is very smart with none of that stuff. If you want your kids to learn the alphabet, shapes, colors, etc. teach it to them. It’s not hard. I personally think all that baby tv and video games and learning toys cause ADD and possibly autism. The best educational toys for kids are a set of plain wooden blocks, books, musical instruments (like drums and maracas), plain dolls that don’t talk or do anything, and pretend toys- anything that makes them use their imagination.

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