Yes, talking a lot to little ones is super-beneficial, but reading to them does even more.
We all know that reading to our kids promotes their brain development, vocabulary and literacy skills, but to this point it wasn’t clear why reading aloud is so crucial. Now, new research may have an explanation: it’s all about the text.
Simply put, story time introduces kids to a lot more unique words than they’re exposed to in everyday conversations with Mom—which of course means a better opportunity for children to develop larger vocabularies.
Researchers from the University of California Riverside pit the transcribed everyday conversations between parents and their kids against text from a hundred popularly recommended children’s picture books to see which one yielded the highest percentage of unique words. The clear winner? Books.
“When we compared our text of transcribed books to an equally-sized amount of speech-to-kids, we found about 70 percent more unique words in the books than in the speech,” says Jessica Montag, PhD, assistant research psychologist and author of the study. However, she warns that the figure reflects the sample size and the various methodological choices in the study, so the actual percentage may be more or less. Still, it’s easy to understand that books have the advantage. The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.
And it’s not just about the words learned. In addition to exposure to more unique vocabulary, kids stand to benefit from the different topics covered in books and the variety of sentence structures used. “Books allow you to talk about more different things in more different contexts… It’s a lot of really fun play with stories and with language,” says Dr. Montag. Fun and play along with lots of words, sentence structures and context—a great way to learn!