Picture books ‘should tell a story to help toddlers learn language’

Picture books which tell a story may be better at improving a toddler’s language skills than “educational” vocabulary books, a study has found. This is from the Telegraph…

Many parents buy vocabulary books, containing a series of images alongside simple words such as “apple” or “cat”, because they are advertised as helping children’s language development.

But researchers claim that story books, which contain equally simple language but tell a tale through detailed pictures, may be better suited to the task.

Books which have a proper narrative structure encourage parents to use more complex language and a greater number of tenses as they tell the story to their children, researchers explained.

In contrast vocabulary books, which contain a variety of images and words but no context or continuous story, restrict parents to using of more simple words and ideas as they turn each page.

Previous studies have established that mothers’ use of complex words can improve young children’s general language skills, command of narratives and abstract vocabulary.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada recorded 25 pairs of mothers and children as they read two picture books, one of which told a simple story through its images and one which contained pictures of animals but had no continuous narrative.

When reading the story books a quarter of mothers’ language was categorised as “complex”, for example using abstract terms or non-present tenses, compared with only 15 per cent while reading the vocabulary books.

Prof Daniela O’Neill, who led the study, said: “When reading the picture story, we would hear [mothers] say things such as ‘Where do you think the squirrel is going to go?’ or ‘We saw a squirrel this morning in the back yard’.

“But we didn’t hear this kind of complex talk as often with vocabulary books, where mentioning just the name of the animal, for example, was more common.”

The results, published in the First Language journal, show that story books could help toddlers prepare for school and should not be dismissed as “just for fun”, Prof O’Neill added.

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Categories: Parenting, Pre-school and Research.

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