Storybook Reading and Language Development

Storybook Reading and Language Development

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of our study was to explore the relation between young children’s exposure to books and the development of language. Many parents and educators believe that reading storybooks to young children is a fun activity and a good occasion for learning. This study focused on the relation between the frequency and variability of storybook reading at home and the development of early language skills. The purpose was to derive a better understanding of the language skills related to shared book reading experiences between parent and child. The results of this study have important implications for the role of parent involvement in the development of their young child’s language skills, and for the design of appropriate curricula and the development of early language intervention programs.

Background

Storybook reading between a parent and their young child can be a source of entertainment and learning. Previous research has shown that exposure to storybooks has a positive relation on the development of a child’s vocabulary and listening comprehension skills (Sénéchal, Lefevre, Hudson, Lawson, 1996; Sénéchal & Lefevre, 2002). This present research will expand upon these findings to investigate if exposure to storybooks is also related to the development of a child’s narrative ability beyond vocabulary and listening comprehension. The ability to use and understand narrative as a type of discourse plays a critical role in successful academic achievement for children. There are both practical and theoretical reasons to use narrative as a tool of instruction in the classroom. Peterson (1994) argues that because children enter school more competent in the use of narrative than other genres of discourse, narrative is a more practical tool of instruction. On the theoretical side, Peterson indicates that listening to or producing narratives involves event knowledge and decontextualization of thinking, both of which foster cognitive development in children. Thus, the present study will examine if storybook exposure is related to the development of a child’s vocabulary, listening comprehension, as well as narrative ability. The results of this study will have important implications for the role of parent involvement in the development of their young child’s language skills and these results will be important for the design of appropriate curricula and for the development of early language intervention programs.

Who Took Part

In the spring of 2005, we met individually with 125 children at seven junior kindergarten classrooms in Ottawa-Carleton to assess their vocabulary, listening comprehension and narrative ability.

What We Did

The children were assessed at school in two individual testing sessions lasting from 20 to 30 minutes each. We asked the junior kindergarten children to label pictures, to point to a picture that corresponds to a sentence and to tell us a story by looking at a wordless book. We used a standardized task of non-verbal intelligence in which we had the children play a game using wooden pegs and pictures. Parents also participated in this study. Parents were asked to complete three checklists where they indicated whether they recognized children’s book titles and book authors, as well as adult book authors. Parents also answered questions about their child’s experiences with books and their socioeconomic status.

What We Found

Preliminary analyses reveal that, on average, parents read to their children at bedtime 5 times a week. At other times in a typical week, parents read to their children, on average, 4 times a week. Also, on average, 61 to 80 books in English are found in the home. Children performed as expected on language and intelligence tasks, as average performance was within an age expected range. Preliminary work in this area suggests that more frequent storybook reading is associated with increased oral language skills including vocabulary and the ability to tell a story (i.e., narrative ability). Please note that in-depth analyses of children’s narratives are still ongoing to evaluate how the home experiences relate to the children’s language skills.

Why This Type of Research is Important

Our previous research has shown that exposure to storybooks has a positive influence on the development of a child’s vocabulary skills and listening comprehension (Sénéchal, Lefevre, Hudson, & Lawson, 1996; Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002). The present research expands upon these findings to investigate if exposure to storybooks is also related to a child’s ability to tell a story verbally (i.e., narrative ability). The results of this study have implications for our understanding of the relation between shared book reading in the development of children’s vocabulary, listening comprehension and narrative ability. If a solid, reliable, and positive relation is found, then teachers can use this information to encourage parents to engage in more shared reading at home. In addition, these results are important for the design of appropriate curricula and for the development of early language intervention programs. This is especially important because oral language skills are highly associated with learning to read and with overall academic success.

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