Reading aloud to your toddler and preschooler is probably the single best thing you can do for their cognitive development (besides plenty of unstructured playtime)! Reading ability is partially genetic, surprisingly so, but the environment has a large influence as well. Interestingly, the effect of reading snowballs over time: Children who are exposed to more books in early life develop better reading ability and those with better reading ability read more, thereby increasing their sphere of knowledge.
Research with identical twins (thus ruling out other explanations) shows a causal link between reading ability and better verbal and general intelligence over time.
Another study shows how this effect snowballs over time: exposure to books and reading in preschool and kindergarten explained 12% of the difference on oral language tests (12% of the reason children did better on that test was due to exposure to books), this increased to 13% in elementary school, 19% in middle school, 30% in high school and 34% in college!
Not only does reading with toddlers and preschoolers affect their developing intelligence it also positively impacts their social and emotional intelligence, especially if the books you read are about social or emotional situations.
The research is so clear that in the Summer of 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a study and a program to encourage pediatricians to discuss the multiple benefits of shared reading time with parents. The AAP encourages parents to read aloud starting in infancy, but there is no reason to stop even when children are older. Parents who continue to read aloud (i.e. chapters books etc.), perhaps even taking turns reading, have children who read more on their own and share a love for reading.
But it isn’t just about how much we read to our children, but how we read with them.
A little over 20 years ago Dr. Whitehurst and his colleagues developed and researched a shared reading strategy they dubbed “Dialogic Reading.” Dialogic Reading is a style of reading in which the parent engages the child in a conversation (i.e. dialog) about the story. Over the last several years several researchers have put this strategy to the test and it works. Dialogic reading results in more expressive and receptive language in preschoolers and that leads to better reading ability, which leads to more reading and so on, as discussed above.
So what exactly is Dialogic Reading and how do you do it? I’ll explain it here and there is a handy printable below you can save and print to refer to later.
Dialogic Reading is when you include your child in the telling of the story through prompts — like what happens next? And then give feedback on their response. Whitehurst and colleagues developed an acronym for the interaction in which your child tells the story with you as your PEER:
For example, with a young toddler PEER might look like this:
What color is the bus? (Prompt) Yes, the bus is yellow (Evaluate). That is a yellow school bus (Expand). The bus is a yellow school bus (Repeat).
With an older preschooler, PEER could look something like this when reading If you Give a Mouse a Cookie:
What do you think the Mouse will want next? (Prompt) Yes, I think he will want another cookie (Evaluate) Why did he want another cookie? (Expand) The mouse wanted another cookie to go with that milk.
There are many types of prompts you could use. Whitehurst and colleagues came up with five types of prompts and the acronym CROWD to remember them:
Completion prompts are when you leave the sentence blank: “And chances are if he asks for a glass of milk, he’s going to want ____________.”
Recall prompts are when you ask your child to remember what happens in a book they have already read, “Does the mouse take a nap?” “What happens when the mouse looks in the mirror?”
Open-ended prompts are when you say something like “what is happening in this picture?”
The What, when, why, where and how prompt, is pretty self-explanatory.
And the Distancing prompt are really more of a connecting prompt– for example, “Do you remember when we made cookies with Daddy?”
I don’t use this method every time I read with J (anyone else feel like your bedtime routine is long enough as it is, thank you very much!) I also don’t use all the strategies every time, I tend to use the completion prompt the most, and I don’t always follow through all four steps of the PEER strategy. But, I do use these often and I view it as learning time– I don’t do a lot of other direct instruction as I think at this age he learns best from play.
I think the best way to use this is to adapt to your child’s ability and use it when it feels right. Once it starts to feel natural (it’s harder with younger kids), it can be fun — it is amazing the ideas they have in their little heads!
In the end, it is all about having them help tell the story with you and connecting with them. I think that makes storytime meaningful, which makes for greater learning.
Happy storytime everyone! Find lists my favorite interactive read aloud books for Preschoolers here and toddlers here! Also don’t miss my post on reading and the brain and the importance of rhyming books.
Here is a printable guide for Reading Aloud to Children!!! To download a copy click here –>How to Read Aloud to your Child