Everyone knows reading to your children is important, but now a new study illustrates just how important it can be to read to your young children each night for vocabulary and reading skills.
Researchers from Ohio State University discovered a “million word gap” between children who are read to at home and children who were never read to. Published online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavior Pediatrics, the study revealed that young children whose parents read them five books a day, each day before kindergarten have heard about 1.4 million more words than children who aren’t read to at home.
Why it is important
“Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school,” said Jessica Logan, a member of Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy and lead researcher of the study. “They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.”
Even kids who are read only one book a day will hear about 290,000 more words by the age of 5 than those who don’t read with their caregiver.
1/4 of children never read to
The idea for the study evolved from earlier research, which found that about ¼ of children in a national sample were never read to and another ¼ were read to just one to two times per week – described as seldom in the study.
“The fact that we had so many parents who said they never or seldom read to their kids was pretty shocking to us,” Logan said. “We wanted to figure out what that might mean for their kids.”
Working with Columbus Metropolitan Library, the research team identified the 100 most circulated board books and picture books for preschoolers. Then Logan and the team randomly selected 30 books from each of the lists and counted the words in the books. On average, they found board books contain 140 words while picture books contain 228.
After that, the research included the following assumptions:
- Kids would be read board books from birth through 3-years-old
- After that, they would be read picture books for the next two years.
- Every reading session would include one book
- That parents who said they never read to their children, would actually read to their children once a month.
Based on these assumptions and their calculations, the following breaks down how many words kids would have heard by the time they were 5.
- Never read to: 4,662
- 1-2 times per week: 63,570
- 3-5 times per week: 169,520
- Daily: 296,660
- 5 books a day: 1,483,300
“The word gap of more than 1 million words between children raised in a literacy-rich environment and those who were never read to is striking,” Logan said.
Researches also looked at the vocabulary gap. One study from 1992 suggested that children growing up in poverty hear about 30 million fewer words in conversation by the age of 3 than those of privileged children, but Logan said that other studies since that time have suggested a smaller gap or even a non-existent gap.
However, Logan said the vocabulary word gap in this study is different from the conversational word gap and may have different implications for children.
“This isn’t about everyday communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home,” she said.
For instance, if parents are reading their children a book about brown bears in Alaska, they are also introducing words and concepts that might not come up in everyday conversation.
“The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” she said.
In fact, Logan said that the million-word gap found in this study may be a conservative number because parents will often talk to their children about the books or add things if it’s a book they’ve read before. This is defined as “extra-texual” talk and will reinforce new vocabulary words or introduce new ones.
“Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids. Parents can get access to books that are appropriate for their children at the local library,” Logan said.
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