*This is a guest post
Many children enjoy reading stories together with their parents, grandparents and babysitters. There are several reasons why children and parents enjoy reading together, such as sharing quiet, quality time with undivided attention. Children who are read to more often, tend to enjoy reading more once they start school, which in turn influences their long-term academic success. How can we help children get the most out of reading stories together?
Read the Same Stories Over and Over
Children love hearing the same stories over and over again—and research shows this is good for learning new words. When children hear a story the second time they know the characters and what to expect. This allows them to relax and focus on any smaller details they may have missed during previous readings. Are the events foreshadowed? Is there a clue giving away the ending? How about any unknown words?
In one study, 3-year-old children in Sussex were either read the same story over and over and over again or three different stories and then tested on new words that had occurred in the story. The study was repeated three times (with new stories and words each time). Children who had heard the same stories consistently outperformed children who had heard the different stories—even when they had to remember the words for an entire week. This is also the case for children with language delays. And children have told us themselves that they prefer reading the same stories more than different stories.
This finding is really interesting because it shows that sometimes less is more. It’s not about having a vast library of children’s books, as nice (and expensive) as that would be. It’s about taking time to read a book enough times that you can really learn all the new words.
Read Before Bedtime and Naps
Children also love stories at bedtime. What a nice end to the day for a child to get special time to share something with their parents. Of course, it’s good to read to children whenever you can. But if you’re having a busy day, bedtime is an ideal time to do it.
The time before bedtime is excellent for learning new information, including maths. When children sleep shortly after learning new information they are able to remember that information better. In a follow-up study to the one described above, new groups of 3-year-old children were read either the same or different stories, but this time children were read at preschool ether before their naptime or before an equivalent amount of time for children who no longer took afternoon naps.
Once again, children learned more words if they had heard the same stories than if they had heard different stories. However, children who heard different stories and then napped learned as much as their same stories peers. Learning words from several different stories is difficult, but children could do it when they learned before naptime. If you need any more encouragement, it’s good to know that including bedtime stories do not make the bedtime routine longer.
Avoid Too Many Bells and Whistles
One way to get children interested in books is to choose books that follow something the child is already interested in from space to castles. Libraries and bookstores are filled with beautifully illustrated books and stories clearly written with rhymes and fun alliterations. But they are also filled with books that include pull-tabs, flaps and textures.
Books with features that you can touch and move are fun to read, especially for young children who do not have the attention span to listen to chapter books. But these same features can be very distracting. 2- and 3-year-old children who are taught animal facts from books with such features learn less well than children who are taught from books that don’t have moving parts. These books can still be fun to get children interested in the world of books, but they do not make the best learning materials.
A study published earlier this summer also showed that 3-year-old children learned fewer words from stories with multiple, complicated illustrated scenes in view than from stories with only one illustration in view at a time. Both groups of children heard three different stories and both groups did see all of the illustrations; the difference was whether they were presented side-by-side or one at time. This might explain why the early levels of Biff, Chip and Kipper books are so effective in teaching reading. When there is only one illustration to look at, children have an easier time focusing on what they are hearing or reading.
Use Your Hands
Some books do have multiple, beautiful illustrations and we still want to share them. But children do not look at the text of storybooks until they themselves are beginning to learn to read. This means that children may be stuck looking on the lefthand page when you start reading the righthand page. By simply including a gesture like pointing or even swiping the page you are about to read, you can guide children’s attention to the correct page. When researchers did this in the illustrations study they were able to help children learn words just as well as children who had seen fewer illustrations or even children who had heard the same stories.
Reading the same stories repeatedly, reading before bedtime and using your hands when you read stories with complicated illustrations are all very helpful for helping children learn from books. Of course, the most important thing is to have fun sharing books together. Showing your child how you love books will help them learn to love books too.
For additional tips on how to raise a reader see here.
Hear more on from Dr Jessica Horst at her event ‘Making storytime memorable’ at this year’s British Science Festival. Book your tickets here: www.britishsciencefestival.org.
Author bio: Here is a bio for Dr Horst: Jessica Horst is a faculty member at the University of Sussex. Her interest in storybooks began during her childhood when she would write stories for classmates and children she babysat. In her spare time, she enjoys playing boardgames and making stop-motion videos with her 6-year-old son—as well as reading and writing stories. You can read more about her research at www.readandrepeat.com and follow her on twitter here.
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