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Children’s Picture Books Better than Vocabulary Books, Study Reports

Update Date: Apr 18, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

Although teaching vocabulary words seems to be a very popular method in education, a new study reports that this technique might not be as effective for little children. The early stages of a child's life are extremely vital to both physical and mental growth, which is why stimulation during these times is very important. According to a study done by researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada, young children can benefit a lot more from wordless picture books than simple vocabulary books, which tend to be favored among parents.

"Too often, parents dismiss picture storybooks, especially when they are wordless, as not real reading or just for fun," Professor and study's author, Daniela O'Neill said. "But these findings show that reading picture storybooks with kids exposes them to the kind of talk that is really important for children to hear, especially as they transition to school."

The study, done with graduate student Angela Nyhout, recruited 25 mothers and recorded them when they were told to read either a wordless picture book or a vocabulary book that used pictures as well. With the wordless picture book, mothers were required to make up stories on their own, where as, with the vocabulary books, mothers tended to point at the picture and read the corresponding word. Due to the different styles that the mothers took in reading the books, the researchers noted that wordless picture books influenced mothers to used more complex conversational talk.

"So, when reading the picture story, we would hear moms say things such as 'where do you think the squirrel is going to go? Or 'we saw a squirrel this morning in the backyard.' But we didn't hear this kind of complex talk as often with vocabulary books, where mentioning just the name of the animal, for example, was more common," said O'Neill.

This study's findings are importing in educating mothers on different ways of improving their children's ability to make complex sentences or at least, understand them. Although vocabulary books are still considered to be useful since learning more words never hurts, wordless picture books give children the chance to use vocabulary words in sentences.

"Books of all kinds can build children's language and literacy skills, but they do so perhaps in different ways. It's exciting to find that even short wordless picture books provide children with exposure to the kinds of sophisticated language that they will encounter at school and that lay the foundation for later reading development," O'Neill added.

The study was published in the journal, First Language

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