Picture worth a thousand words: Illustrated books key to improving child literacy, Manchester Uni reveals

By Amelia Goswell

Picture books are just as valuable to children’s learning as reading complex stories, giving parents with poor literacy skills the ability to improve their child’s language skills research revealed.

Dr Thea Cameron-Faulkner and Dr Claire Noble of The University of Manchester say simple books with just one or two words per page, like Jez Alborough’s Hug, are just as beneficial as more traditional storybooks, such as Kipper by Mick Inkpen.

And the key to success, they found, is as much to do with talking about the books with children as discussing the text itself.

The child language researchers’ study of 23 parents reading both books with their children is good news for mums and dads who struggle with reading themselves.

Dr Cameron-Faulkner said: “It’s pretty well established that sharing books with young children improves their vocabulary and literacy development, and that language skills are linked to academic attainment generally.

“But what hasn’t really been understood is how it impacts on children’s ability to learn grammar – a hugely important part of their language development.”

Kipper’s more complex dialogue was stimulating, so less discussion was needed, whereas the simpler text of Hug stimulated more complex discussion – and both books generated more complex language than a free play situation in which the parent and child played with a toy kitchen.

Parent less likely to read books to their children themselves because of poor literacy skills, they say, can still help their children even if they use books which are easier to read – research showed that a simpler book is ‘just as valuable’ as a more complex one.

A previous study by the team of the twenty bestselling picture books on Amazon, aimed at two-year-old children, also revealed the types of words found in children’s books.

It compared the language in books to words used in everyday speech to children and found the books contained more language important in the development of children’s grammar than is found in normal speech to children.

Dr Cameron-Faulkner said: “Our research shows quite clearly that books are a valuable source of language input: the language used when sharing books contains more complex, structurally rich constructions than everyday child directed speech.”

Dr Noble added that the main message of their study is that reading to kids is ‘a good thing to do’ and that it can give children a rich language experience ‘which may not be found in other situations’.

Image courtesy of Sarah Houghton via Flickr, with thanks.

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