Research reveals a connection between the amount of time adults spend reading storybooks to children and the level of children’s oral language development. The stories, pictures, and accompanying adult-to-child interactions facilitate language use and increase expressive and receptive vocabulary. Further, children who have been read to frequently are better able to retell stories than children who have had few opportunities to engage in story time (Barrentine, 1996; Durkin, 1966). Children are able to learn new vocabulary during storybook time as they point to pictures they see in the book and when an attentive adult labels the picture or illustration. This interaction is called shared visual attention and is the basis of a great deal of vocabulary development (Woodward & Guajardo, 2002; Corkum & Moore, 1998). Sharing simple storybooks with interesting illustrations is one way parents can increase their children’s vocabulary. As the parent, sibling, or caregiver reads the storybook to a child, the opportunity to label many wonderful new and rare sights is almost unavoidable! The following conversation took place between Josh (four) and Jared (two) while they were reading I Know a Rhino (actually talking about the pictures).
Josh: See the Rhi-na-ser-rus, Jared? They really don’t drink coffee but it’s funny.
Jared: Me, turn page.
Josh: Okay, see the pig? Jared, point to the muddy pig. You found him.
Josh: Now see? Okay, you tell me? What it is?
Josh: Well, it says ape but they are the same things, monkey and ape. Yup, the same thing, but say ape. Okay?Jared: Ape monkey.
The interactions between these two brothers show how quickly vocabulary is developed through story time. Plus, just how often will a Rhi-na-ser-rus just show up at your home?
Caregivers may also encourage discussion and comprehension by asking open-ended questions about the story. Children often relate to the characters and story lines and, when encouraged, they reveal interesting views. The following conversation occurred when Dominique was four years old, after a reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Mom: What part of the story did you like the best?
Dominique: When Goldilocks kept messing up baby bear’s stuff.
Mom: Who did you like best in the story?
Dominique: Baby bear.
Dominique: ‘Cause baby bear is like me. All of his stuff is wrecked up by Goldilocks, like Sheritta [her eighteen-month-old sister] messes up mine.
Notice that Dominique’s mother asked open-ended opinion questions and accepted her child’s responses. This type of question encourages oral responses and children’s personal interpretation of the story. Adults should refrain from asking interrogation or detail questions, such as “What did Goldilocks say when she tasted the second bowl of porridge?” Detail questions tend to make story time avoidable, not enjoyable.
As children snuggle in a parent’s lap or beside their parent in a chair or bed, story time creates a comforting, private time to talk together. In addition to providing wonderful language opportunities, story time also establishes a foundation for children to become successful readers.
In today’s culturally, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse society, teachers may find that some of their students’ parents may not have the ability to read to their children or the financial means to purchase storybooks. Even more parents are unsure how to successfully engage their children in story time. Teachers may need to help parents by serving as a resource.
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