Six tips: how to read to kids for best results
Everyone knows it’s good to read to your children. But new research shows that how you read to them can make a difference in improving memory, learning outcomes and self-control.
The research, conducted by Dr Ameneh Shahaeian from ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, found that parents can adjust their approach to reading to their children to maximise learning outcomes.
“Kids love to hear stories. There is a magic in stories. We all remember hearing them as children, and we loved them,” said Dr Shahaeian. “By examining the different ways that parents tell stories, we have identified the key elements of reading which are most beneficial for children’s cognitive development.”
Here are Dr Shahaeian’s tips on how to read to your children.
1. Tune in to your child
Perhaps the most important aspect of reading to children is to tune in to your child and listen to their cues. Do they like the story or not? Do they know the vocabulary or not? Are they paying attention to the pictures more, or the written text?
Dr Shahaeian says: “Try to coach your child, not instruct them. And always remember, the best books for your children are the ones they like the most.”
2. Ask questions
Parents who ask lots of questions from their children create a more enjoyable, fun and informative environment. Ask if they can guess what the story characters are going to do next, and why they have behaved in certain ways. These questions also help to strengthen the emotional bonds between parents and children.
Dr Shahaeian says: “Children like to feel that they are a part of the task, not that they are being told how to do things.”
3. Go beyond describing the images or reading the text
In the study, parents were given a wordless picture book to read. An important difference observed between parents was that some only ‘describe’ what they see in the pictures, while some go beyond the picture to create other possible scenarios. Imagining what is beyond the pictures and words is a richer way to tell the story to children.
Dr Shahaeian says: “Adding in extra details and using your own imagination to give the stories further depth ultimately leads to better cognitive developmental outcomes for children.”
4. Make logical links between different parts of the story
An element that has a strong link to children’s developing cognitive skills is the way that parents build logical links between different parts of the story. Often the events in books unfold very quickly, jumping from one scene to the next. It’s beneficial for the child when parents add their own additional context and links between these elements to logically explain what has happened between scenes – and how one part of the story relates to the other.
Dr Shahaeian says: “It is really important to provide context for children, particularly to help them when developing knowledge of abstract ideas.”
5. Add relevant details
Most parents add details to the story to make it more interesting or comprehensive, but it’s useful to ensure the details you’re adding to the story make it more understandable. Try not to add in arbitrary niceties, but provide additional information that relates to the outcomes in the plot.
Dr Shahaeian says: “Make your added details helpful and relevant to the story, this makes it more valuable for a child’s comprehension.”
6. Talk about mental and emotional concepts
Parents who not only describe the events of a story but also discuss abstract concepts related to emotions, desires and thoughts tend to have children who are more cognitively-skilled. These children develop a better understanding of others’ emotions, better friendship skills, and even improved memory and higher-order cognitive skills which are useful in later life and can lead to success, including academic success.
Dr Shahaeian says: “Reading to very young children can have long-lasting benefits for their later school success, not only in literacy but also in mathematics. Adding to this, early shared reading particularly helps children from disadvantaged families defy limitations associated with their socio-economic status. So, if there is only one thing you have time to do with your children, it should be reading to and with them.”
Dr Ameneh Shahaeian is a Brisbane-based psychologist whose research focuses on children’s development, learning and mental health. She is currently a research fellow at ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education.
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