Research shows that sharing books with kids interactively—pointing out words and illustrations, and providing descriptions and definitions—is a great way to boost learning and literacy in young children.
Repetition is also important. Investigators say that repeatedly exposing kids to words and pictures supports comprehension and helps kids understand information and retain it longer.
Now, a new study from a team of researchers at the University of Sussex in England suggests that if you want to help all those new vocab words stick, you may want to pay attention to the number of pictures in the books you’re sharing with your young child. It turns out that too much visual information can overwhelm a pre-reader who is trying to match up the pictures he sees with the words he hears.
In other words, less is sometimes more when it comes to pictures.
For an experiment, Zoe Flack, a doctoral student in developmental psychology at the University of Sussex recruited preschoolers, all about three and a half years old, and not yet reading. Then, she and her team read the kids stories from a book with two illustrations shown at a time (on facing pages), and from a book with an illustration on one page facing a blank page with no words and no illustrations on it.
Then they tested the children to see if they had learned new words from the book the researchers shared with them. The children who saw only one picture at a time learned new words from the stories. The kids who saw two pictures didn’t.
“Children who are too young to read themselves don’t know where to look because they are not following the text,” explains Flack. “This has a dramatic impact on how well they learn new words from stories.”
Talk with your hands
Does this mean junking all your beautiful, bountifully illustrated children’s books to boost preschool learning? Not at all! First, because there are so many benefits to reading together that go beyond learning new vocabulary (such as fostering a love of reading and sharing a quiet, cuddly activity), your child will always get something out of reading books with you.
And second, because you can still support word learning with richly illustrated (one or more visuals per spread) books—as long as you help your child connect the dots by showing her the pictures and naming them as you go—for example, pointing to the bouncing red circle as you say “ball” and so on. In Flack’s study, when adult readers gestured to relevant pictures (on a two-picture spread), kids picked up new words just as well as those kids who saw only one picture at once. “Simply guiding children’s attention to the correct page helps them focus on the right illustrations,” Flack says, “and this, in turn, might help them concentrate on the new words.” So, keep reading!
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