What’s the Best Way to Read to Your Children?

Every parent knows that reading to children supports their long-term language development. Studies show that regularly reading to children helps them learn vocabulary, strengthens their communication skills, and even helps with their memory.

Is there a way to boost these gains further?

A group of educators in Denizli, Turkey compared “monologic” to “dialogic” reading—that is, traditional reading to a child straight from the text with a more interactive, role-shifting approach—by using the two approaches on similar groups of four- and five-year old preschoolers, all from low-income families, over a four-week period. The researchers selected eight picture story books and read to the children for just 20 minutes two times a week.

Indeed, as Ellen Galinsky wrote in ELN: “For a long time, we’ve been told, ‘read to children!’ As important as this message is, it has frustrated me. It’s not JUST reading to children that matters; it is HOW we read to children that has benefits for us and for them.”

“This may sound like a guilt-trip, but it’s not! There are simple ways to read to children that make it more fun for us and for children and that promote their learning even better. These don’t cost money or take lots of time. I certainly know from my research on work and family life that time is something we all feel starved for.”

The processes of dialogic reading—asking questions, bringing in information from outside the story, and asking the child to provide his or her own descriptions of pictures in the book—resulted in statistically significant increases in language scores. Children who participated in dialogic reading were better able to express themselves; other researchers from around the world have found that this ability, gained through dialogic reading, is associated with improved literacy, narrative and receptive language skills.

The lesson is clear: while reading to your children is always a good thing, regularly engaging them in the reading process—conversing about the story and letting your children share the leading role—can lead to long-term gains.

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