While you might be reading bedtime stories to help your child settle down before lights out, you may be doing much more than just a nightly ritual.
An Ohio State University study shows that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents did not read to them.
Jessica Logan and her team launched into this research after findings from an earlier study indicated that one-fourth of children are never read to, and another quarter were only read to once or twice a week.
In collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Logan and her colleagues determined the average number of words in board books and picture books, and then calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. They found that:
- By the time a child is 5 years old, if they have never been read to, they know 4,662 words.
- If they’ve been read to 1-2 times per week, their word count increases to 63,570.
- Reading to a child 3-5 times per week increases their vocabulary to 169,520 words, and daily reading expands their vocabulary to 296,660 words.
- If a child is read five books a day, they know upwards of 1,483,300 words.
- Children who hear more vocabulary words are better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are also more likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.
“This million word gap could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development,” says Logan.
Logan contends that being read to is different from everyday communication. Why? It's because books expose children to words that are much more complex and difficult than what they hear by just talking to their parents and others at home.
For example, reading a book about animals, where they live and their natural habitat, will introduce words and concepts that are not likely to come up in everyday conversations.
“The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,” Logan says. “Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids.”
If reading hasn’t been a priority in your home, it's easy to start. Here's how.
- Visit the library with your little ones for story hour. Get a library card if you don’t already have one so you can take some books home with you.
- Look for gently-used books at garage sales or used bookstores. You might even have some friends who have been holding onto books that could use a new home or who would be willing to trade books back and forth.
- Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school (age 5), regardless of family income. Register your child to receive a new book each month. (Yes, please!)
- Make reading an exciting time to connect with your child. Change your voice for the different characters or animals, let your child turn the pages, point to different things on the page as you read about them or ask them to find the thing you are reading about on the page.
- Place your finger under the words as you read them. This helps your child learn that we read from left to right and will help them visually see the word you are saying.
Don’t have lots of books to choose from? No worries. Almost any parent with grown children can probably still recite to you word for word certain books that their child asked them to read again, and again, and… again. Happy reading!
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 28, 2019.