We all know by now the importance of reading to babies, right? Doing so promotes their language development and literacy skills. Reading to them as they grow stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world.
“It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants,” says Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor. The benefits of reading aloud to children from the time they come into the world are widely researched and documented.
What’s not as widely discussed is which books in particular we should be reading. As a new study from the University of Florida tells us, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn. Published on December 8 in the journal Child Development, the study found that books which clearly name and label people and objects are the optimal kind to read to babies because they help them retain information and stay present.
"When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit," says Scott, who co-authored the study. "Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life."
To reach this conclusion, Scott and her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab, evaluating them first at six months and again at nine months. The researchers used eye-tracking and electroencephalogram techniques to measure attention and learning at both developmental stages.
In between the lab visits, parents were instructed to read to their infants at home, following a schedule of 10 minutes of reading every day for the initial two weeks and every other day for the second two weeks, with a continual decrease until the infant returned to the lab at nine months. The storybooks were randomly assigned to the 23 participating families.
The authors explain that, “one set contained individual-level names and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books' eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story...
The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled eight individuals, with names such as 'Jamar,' 'Boris,' 'Anice,' and 'Fiona.' The category-level books included two made-up labels ('hitchel,' 'wadgen') for all images. The control group included 11 additional nine-month-old infants who did not receive books.”
As it turned out, the group of infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing on and engaging with the images. By observing their brain activity, it was clear that these infants were also able to distinguish the individual characters after reading. This outcome was not found in the control group at six months (before book reading), or in the group of infants who were read books with category-level labels.
The results of this longitudinal study are consistent with Scott’s previous research on how the specificity of labels impacts infants’ learning. Books that specifically name characters improve cognition in infants. No wonder my son has always loved the “Pete the Cat” book series so much!
Some other favorite children’s book collections of ours (now scientifically proven to be educational!) include: “Little Blue Truck,” “Cordouroy,” “Llama Llama,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”
What are the best-loved books at your house? Next time you read them you might notice, do they clearly label characters and objects? Respond in the comment section below!