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3 Ways To Talk To Your Toddler That Pay Off Academically 10 Years Later

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Of course you read and play with your toddler. But new research suggests that there are specific ways to talk to your toddler  - while reading, playing, or, well, just hanging around  - that are associated with reading and math achievement in school 10 years later (click this link for a summary of the study provided by Parents News Now). To learn more about this work, I corresponded via e-mail with Dr. Gina A. Cook, a researcher in the Department of Family, Consumer, and Human Development at Utah State University. Here is Dr. Cook’s take-home message for parents based on the study: 

It’s more than just playing with our children – it’s about how we play with them. The kinds of stimulating activities that are related to later academic outcomes include those behaviors that are slightly above a child’s developmental level such as elaborating on the pictures and words in a book instead of just reading the book, asking open-ended questions, and expanding on what the child is saying or doing.

Dr. Cook provided examples of how each of these principles can be applied when reading to your toddler:

ELABORATING: When reading a book with a dog in it to a 2-3 year old child, instead of just reading the words you might want to point to a picture of the dog and talk about the dog such as what color the dog is, what sound the dog makes, that the dog is like your dog : “Look at the brown doggy, it’s a big doggy, it has spots like our doggy. What sound does the doggy make?”

ASKING OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS: When discussing the dog you could ask the child an open-ended question about what the dog is doing: “Where’s the dog going? Why do you like dogs? What did our dog do this morning?”

EXPANDING: If the child says “doggy” when you turn the page you could say – “Yes, a doggy, the doggy is brown like our doggy.”

Please note that these examples can be applied not just when reading, but also when playing, and really any time you are talking to your child (say if you are out for a walk and you see a dog). This kind of engagement in conversation with your toddler is not only fun for both of you – I would speculate that part of the effect on cognitive development comes directly from the positive affect attached to learning. And do keep in mind that a big reminder from the study is that parents should be sure to give their toddlers plenty of time for pretend play and be active participants – it’s a great opportunity to elaborate, ask open-ended questions, and expand during conversation. And you will see benefits from all this 10 years later in school.

Image of family reading via Shutterstock.com

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