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What Makes Read-Alouds So Important?

Many new parents receive the advice that they should read aloud to their baby. It’s advice that’s grounded in research, as many studies have linked early shared reading at home to later success in the classroom—but what is it about reading to young children that makes it so important?

Although conversations babies and young children have with their caregivers are well established as the primary means by which youngsters develop language, researchers from Indiana University Bloomington say that picture books may play a disproportionate role in children’s language learning.

In a study published in the last issue of the journal Psychological Science the researchers suggest that books have such an outsized influence because of the words they use.

Picture books, on average, include far more diverse vocabulary than do typical child-parent conversations.

The authors write, “When parents read picture books to infants, the books both bring the exotic into the here and now and, via the text, support the production of a set of relatively uncommon words.”

Reading a picture book aloud together also requires shared attention between caregiver and child. This environment has been shown to be an important language learning context for children, according to the researchers.

The researchers see shared book reading as a potential intervention to help increase the vocabulary of young children and aid in their language development process.

They conclude, “Our results do not change the bottom line for parents: Read to your infants and children.”

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