Joint Media Engagement, Otherwise Known as “Reading with your Child”

by On March 11, 2013 in General, Reading

Take a look at Bookboard’s demo video. Notice how Caroline and her son are cuddled up, reading books on the iPad together? We used to call this practice “reading with your child,” but now researchers, librarians, policy developers and educators have a new term for it; “Joint Media Engagement.”

Joint media engagement (JME) refers to spontaneous and designed experiences of people using media together. JME can happen anywhere and at any time when there are multiple people interacting together with media. Modes of JME include viewing, playing, searching, reading, contributing, and creating, with either digital or traditional media. (from Joint Media Engagement and Learning)”


In 2010, the LIFE Center (a project funded by the National Science Foundation) coined the term “Joint Media Engagement,” which has since become the most common librarian jargon to fall from my lips when I talk about parents and children’s reading digital books together. Research organizations like the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media pump out research on children’s consumption of media and the effects thereof, and this new research informs the practices of schools, libraries and the producers of children’s content alike. I refer to this kind of research in every workshop, webinar and training session that I run for my colleagues, because many parents and librarians still have questions about the propriety of using digital media with young children.

Conversation abounds on the interwebs about how smart phones and tablet technology are going to ruin society, but I see a huge opportunity for caregivers and children to share literacy experiences in a digital environment. “Joint Media Engagement” is what we can call this opportunity, though if you think about it, sitting with your child reading a paper book is also “Joint Media Engagement,” though we didn’t really need a fancy term for it before the advent of digital media (though co-reading comes close). With the prevalence of “interactive” books, parents are often tempted to let the app read itself (that’s what it’s designed for, isn’t it?), but what we know now, especially after widely publicized controversies like the Baby Einstein debacle, is that children learn best from play, and by interacting with a caring adult:

“For optimal development, in addition to food and safety, [children] need love. They need to be held, and they need plenty of face-to-face positive interactions with caring adults. Developing children thrive when they are talked to, read to, and played with. (from Facing the Screen Dilema: Young Children, Technology and Early Education)”

The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the International Reading Association teamed up in 1998 to produce a joint position statement entitled: Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. The following quote sums up the position, and is also what I aim to support in every storytime program I plan and present:

“The single most important activity for building [the] understandings and skills essential for reading success appears to be reading aloud to children (Bus, Van IJzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Wells, 1985). High-quality book reading occurs when children feel emotionally secure (Bus & Van IJzendoorn, 1995; Bus et al., 1997) and are active participants in reading (Whitehurst et al., 1994).”

Parents ask me all the time what they can do to help their child read better, or for tips on speeding up their child’s brain development. Parents still come into the library asking what DVDs they can check out that will “teach” their children to play the trombone, speak Chinese or learn the periodic table. My answer is always the same: Read to your children. As much and as often as you can. Read the best books you can find. Read the books that grab their attention. Read the books that grab YOUR attention; if you’re enjoying yourself, they’re more likely to enjoy it too.  Read a paper book, a digital book, a cloth book, the newspaper, and every other bit of text you see. 

In this post I’ve included more articles and position statements than most parents will actually have the time to work through, but what really matters the most can be summed up in the words of one of my favorite authors of all time, Rosemary Wells:

“Read to your bunny often, and your bunny will read to you.”




Cen is a children’s librarian in Silicon Valley, and a children’s digital services consultant at LittleeLit.com. She has driven a bookmobile, managed branch libraries, developed innovative programs for babies, young children and teens, and now helps other libraries incorporate digital media into their early literacy programming. She attended the California State Library’s Eureka Leadership Institute in 2008 and now serves on the American Library Association's ALSC Children & Technology committee.

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