It’s science: Reading the same books to your child over and over makes them smarter
Our author's article originally featured in Motherly
Did you know that every night, when you snuggle up with your preschooler and they select that favorite book (you know the one I'm talking about…you've read it 300 times), you're actually preparing them for academic success and test taking?
You might either be intrigued or infuriated, but hear me out. Something really magical is going on that is vital to their future school success.
I'm talking about vocabulary comprehension.
When you talk to and read to your child every night, you are exposing them to rich vocabulary.
How do children learn new words?
Through experience and meaningful context. Children's literature uses language in new and playful ways, and your preschooler is like a sponge sucking it all up.
When children are learning to read in Kindergarten they are learning skills that help them decode and sound out words. However, the words have to make sense.
They have to understand the words they are reading in order to comprehend the story, and that is where vocabulary is a very important and often overlooked component to building readers.
But how is this related to test taking? You have years until you have to worry about that…right?
Although you have plenty of time to push off explaining multiple choice and test taking strategies, end of testing success relies on reading comprehension. So if children have a strong comprehension of vocabulary, then they will have a greater ability to comprehend new text. Laying the foundation they need to be successful.
So next time your preschooler hands you Llama, Llama for the millionth time, don't despair.
Here are a few additional strategies to help take your nighttime book routine up a notch:
I love to ask open-ended questions. They give me insight into how my children think and reason. The other night, I was reading to my daughter and the main character mentioned a "best friend."
I asked her, "How is a best friend different than a regular friend?"
She thought about it and said, "They let me be the boss." Well that was not the answer I was expecting, but it did give me a chance to clarify and offer more details. I said, "Well, my best friends are funny and nice. And we like to do the same things."
Point out new vocabulary or words that are not frequently used in your home
The other day, I was visiting a teacher, and she was reading a book that mentioned the word "bypass." She then stopped and explained what a bypass was to the children. I jumped for vocabulary joy!
We live in a rural area where there are no bypasses. Children in this classroom very rarely hear that word in their day to day conversations with their families. Her ability to recognize the importance of explaining this new word was so important to helping the children comprehend the book that she was reading and she didn't take that for granted.
Ask about details in the illustrations
Pausing at different moments and admiring the art in the illustration is especially important when you are on your 200th read of your child's favorite story. By now, they have memorized the book and know the words by heart. Instead of reading through, exasperated by the monotony of the book, pause and really look at the details in the illustrations. Ask your child questions about the pictures and get them to use some of that new vocabulary that they have been listening to you read repetitively.
Reading to your child every night is not only a wonderful way to build their brain, but it builds the heart too. My best moments in the hustle and bustle of everyday life are snuggled up in bed with my daughters reading a story that makes us giggle.
Ashley Norris is an Instructor in East Carolina University's Birth-Kindergarten Education Program. When she's not preparing future teachers for their career, she is writing children's book. Her first book Queenie Wahine: Little Surfer Girls was released in 2017 and her next book, Little Millie Ford and the New Skateboard, is set for release in Summer 2018.