Researcher Calls Book Sharing Vital for Children
May 12, 2010
In the children’s classic I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, Dr. Suess writes, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.” According to a researcher at the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders, this quote not only is true, but also highlights why parents should be mindful of the ways they read and share books with their young children.
“When parents read to their children, they model behaviors that provide a powerful learning mechanism,” said Dr. Anne van Kleeck, professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “What children learn from their parents during book sharing activities in the home can impact their language development and future academic success.”
Van Kleeck is investigating how a parent’s cultural and educational background may influence a child’s ability to use language effectively in social and academic contexts.
“Some of my current research focuses on two different uses of language: school talk and social talk,” said van Kleeck.
“School talk is the language of formal learning,” she said. “It is used to display what you know and to build upon your current knowledge. Social talk, in contrast, is the language of everyday living.”
The ability to engage in school talk is a critical skill for children to learn because it is the type of language most frequently used in the classroom. However, parents in some cultural groups tend to not make this kind of talk a natural part of their interactions during book sharing or other activities with their preschoolers.
“In middle-class families, book sharing often begins before an infant can even talk. When these parents engage in book sharing activities with their very young children, they oftentimes ask questions and then proceed to answer those questions by describing and labeling the objects on the page,” said van Kleeck. “This behavior models what the parents will later expect from the children when they can answer the questions themselves.”
When parents model school talk, they let their children know that when books are around, adults will often ask questions to which they already know the answer, van Kleeck said. But it will be the child’s responsibility to answer those questions anyway.
Later on in the preschool years, parents ask questions that require their children to think more in depth about the information presented in the books. Parents offer the answer if the child is unable to. These question-and-answer sequences model the type of school talk that is used to build knowledge.
“Once in school, the child will encounter many of these ‘display what you know’ and ‘build knowledge’ questions,” said van Kleeck. “If they have already practiced them with their parents, they will impress their teachers in knowing how to respond to these questions.”
Van Kleeck hopes her research will lead to teaching techniques that can be incorporated into a preschool curriculum for children who are not adequately prepared.
Van Kleeck believes that most tests to determine language skills in young children are really assessing their knowledge of school talk. She is investigating a test that was developed in her lab to distinguish between social talk and school talk skills. The distinction will help determine whether a child has a general language weakness or is just unfamiliar with the way talk is used in school.