Here’s why reading books to children is so important

Article written by Frédéric Bernard, Lecturer in neuropsychology, University of Strasbourg on The Conversation.

When done regularly, reading has several cognitive and emotional benefits. Therefore, identifying the factors that promote this activity is of great interest, especially to allow the youngest to benefit as soon as possible, and in a long-term way, from these benefits. Among these factors, there is one that can have a particularly early effect on the taste for reading: the fact of reading stories to your child, also called shared reading.

Discover the “language of books”

Simple at first glance, this activity can still generate a powerful experience. Let’s explore how Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development and cognitive neuroscience in the United States, describes the phenomenological dimension of this joint activity in the book. Proust and the squid :

“Let’s imagine the next scene. A child is hugging a loved one and listening intently to spoken words that flow like a stream, words that tell stories of fairies, dragons and giant inhabiting faraway lands never imagined”.

According to the professor, the brain of the child we read stories to prepares to read sooner than we can imagine. For example, treating words like “elf” or expressions like “once upon a time”, which are rarely encountered in ordinary conversation, will familiarize the child at an early stage with the “language of books”.

Thus, the two activities that occur in parallel during shared playback, “Listen to the written language and feel the love”can be “the best foundations of this long apprenticeship that no specialist in cognitive science or education can implement”continued Maryanne Wolf.

Develop your spoken and written language

Several studies have been conducted in recent decades to determine the effects of shared reading on child development. In a meta-analysis published in 2011 in the scientific journal Psychological BulletinSuzanne Mol and Adriana Bus of Leiden University in the Netherlands listed them.

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From the introduction of the article, it is indicated, along with supporting references, that shared reading is considered one of the most important activities for developing knowledge prior to subsequent reading success. Establishing before age two a habit of shared reading exposes the child to a variety of linguistic stimuli that stimulate his language development and lays the groundwork for a regular reading practice.

Thus, children who are read stories often enter school with larger vocabularies and better comprehension skills. This significant effect can be explained, at least in part, by the fact that children’s books contain three times less frequent words than television content or adult conversations. old child according to Donald Hayes and Margaret Ahrens in an article published in Journal of Child Language in 1988.

Furthermore, a meta-analysis by Adriana Bus and her colleagues, published in 1995 in Evaluating Educational Research, have shown that 64% of children who benefit from shared reading are the best readers in school, this number drops to 36% for children who do not benefit from it. Thus, sharing reading will have a significant impact on children’s development by promoting the skills needed to learn to read and by creating a positive attitude toward reading.

The results of the 2011 meta-analysis go in the same direction by pointing to positive correlations between shared reading activities in children between 2 and 6 years of age and their level of oral language, as well as the extent of their vocabulary and the ability to use it and, finally, the level subsequently reached in reading.

Reading skills and interests

To return to the links between shared reading and a taste for reading, let’s look at the results of a study by Elsje van Bergen and her colleagues conducted in the Netherlands and published in 2017 in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The researchers explored the causal relationships between reading skills and reading enjoyment, measured by considering only reading for leisure at home – and not the books offered at school – in more in 11,000 twins with an average age of 7.5 years.

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After first highlighting the significant positive correlation between reading skills and the love of reading in these children, the authors of the study performed additional statistical analysis that allowed them to conclude that it is the reading skills, which vary from one child to another. , which refers to the taste of reading rather than the other way around.

Thus, according to the results of this study, it is the ease of reading that will lead children aged 7-8 years to read more for pleasure and not the reading taste that will determine the reading skills.

If we now take all the results described in this article, we see that they support the postulate proposed by Fletcher and Reese in an article published in 2005 in the journal Development Reviewaccording to which shared reading will trigger the setting in motion of a spiral causality: shared reading will stimulate the development of language and reading skills, which in turn will stimulate a taste for reading.

Of course, we should not rule out the possibility that reading sharing may have a direct effect on reading taste. However, the scientific studies published so far lead us not to ignore the fact of considering the ease of reading as an intermediate variable between shared reading and a taste for reading.

The conversation

Frédéric Bernard, Lecturer in neuropsychology, University of Strasbourg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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