Monday, October 14th, 2013
Reading to young kids isn’t always easy – especially when they don’t want to sit still. This guest post by Dr. Claire Elizabeth Cameron provides a unique perspective on what to do – and why it works!
While some children sit still when you read to them, others are wiggly and want to act up or speak out while reading. Aren’t they supposed to just be quiet and pay attention?
Actually, no! Acting out the parts of a story may help children remember what happened.
If children are given toys that represent characters in a story, and they act out the characters’ actions as they read, later those children answer more story questions correctly than those who simply reread the key sentences a few times. In small groups, even children who watch other children acting out the story remember what happened better. There are a few reasons this could be:
- Children may not know all the words in a story, but acting out the story may help them figure out the unknown words.
- Doing a movement along with saying the words that go with the movement creates multiple locations or “codes” in children’s brains for the information – whereas saying the words creates only one.
- When children read or hear a story, they create a mental model of what is happening, and acting the story out may help them create the model.
- Watching a sibling, or a peer, act out the story may work just as well.
A theory known as “embodied cognition” means that our brain works together with our body to help us learn. For example, children may learn new words or phrases by mapping the word they haven’t heard before to the action or object that they see when they hear the new word. They also gather information about the world by deciding how they might interact with a given object, like a sofa. Seeing the “sofa” as something fun to jump up and down on helps them understand and learn the meaning of that word.
So while it’s nice to try snuggling together to read books on the sofa, it’s okay to encourage the wiggle-worms to act out – or even imagine acting out – the story. And this approach may also be good for the book worms too!
Claire Elizabeth Cameron is a Research Scientist with expertise in early childhood development at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). She received BAs in Honors Psychology and Italian, a MS in Developmental Psychology, and a PhD in Education and Psychology from the University of Michigan before completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Institute for Education Sciences at CASTL.
Girls Having Fun via Shutterstock.com
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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?”
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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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