Columbus, Ohio- Snuggling up with the kids for a bedtime story is worth a million in many ways. But if you need more motivation, consider the results of a recent Ohio State University study that found that reading five books a day to your kids exposes them to about 1.4 million more words by kindergarten than children who had not read books.
“Children who hear more vocabulary words will be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school,” says study lead author Jessica Logan, assistant professor of educational studies at the university and member of the OSU Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, in a Release. “They are likely to pick up reading skills faster and easier.”
The “million-word gap” may be one reason we see differences in reading readiness and vocabulary development, she adds. But even if parents or caregivers only read one book a day, it still offers children the chance to hear about 290,000 more words by the time they reach kindergarten than if they never had. story time. It’s a significant number.
Logan was inspired by this research because of what she learned in one of her previous studies: about half of all children in a national sample are rarely or never read to by their parents or guardians. Specifically, about a quarter of the country’s children receive reading material only once or twice a week, while another quarter of children never hearing a book read aloud by a parent or caregiver.
“The fact that we had so many parents who said they never or rarely read to their children shocked us. We wanted to understand what this might mean for their children,” Logan said.
So Logan and his research team worked with staff at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, using circulation statistics to determine the top 100 books for young children. The books that made the list included both hardback books (usually read to babies and toddlers) and picture books (usually read to preschoolers).
Of the 100 books, the researchers chose 30 at random and counted the number of words in each book. They determined that hardback books averaged 140 words, while picture books averaged 228 words. The researchers hypothesized that children would be exposed primarily to hardback books until their third birthday and primarily to picture books during the next two years leading up to kindergarten. They assumed that typical reading sessions consisted of only one book, and they gave credit to parents who say they never read to their child, assuming they read at least one book every two months.
If the math is correct, children entering kindergarten may have been exposed to very different word counts. They found that a 5-year-old child who is never read to will have heard 4,662 words, compared to 63,570 words for a child who hears books read once or twice a week. Increasing reading between three and five times a week increases the count to 169,520 words, while reading one book Daily exposes a child to 296,660 words.
When five books are read daily, the number multiplies to an astronomical 1,483,300 words, the authors calculated.
“The word gap of more than a million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those never read to is striking,” says Logan.
While other studies have suggested that some children experience gaps in conversational word exposure, this gap in reading vocabulary is different from a gap in conversational words and may have an entirely different influence on children.
“It’s not about day-to-day communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex and difficult words than what they hear just talking to their parents and other people at home,” Logan adds.
Children’s books, for example, may be about animals that live in habitats halfway around the world or even under the sea. This provides opportunities for concepts and words that otherwise would not be discussed in normal daily household interactions.
“Words that children hear in books can have special significance in learning to read,” she said.
Logan thinks the million-word gap found in this study might even be conservative. Why? Because parents who read to their children will often expand the story and add even more ideas and elements into their “extra-textual conversation”, especially if the book has been read several times. This can reinforce or even expand vocabulary words.
In short, reading to your children is more than just fun. You build imaginary worlds and increase brain power. That should be enough to entice any parent to pull out a worn-out copy of good night moon and snuggle up for another good read “in the big green room”.
The study results were published online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.