There have been many claims over the years that by reading to children they will learn to read with minimal assistance. Similarly, teachers will often recommend to parents that if their child is struggling to learn to read, then they need to spend more time reading to their child.
To all those parents who have religiously read to their child every day of their lives and yet have found the learn to read process very difficult, you will be pleased to know that there is finally research that supports the fallacy of this belief.
In their research, Evan and Saint-Aubin (2005) tracked the eye movements of 4-year-olds as their parents read them picture books. Despite using several different types of books, including books using a comic-book style with the text enclosed in speech bubbles, the children rarely looked at the words on the page. On average, they looked at the pictures more than 20 times as often as they looked at the words.
If children are not looking at the text then they are not developing a knowledge of letter shapes or how letters combine into words – the underlying skills needed to be able to read. In other words, reading TO children is NOT teaching them how to decode the words on the page.
Evans and Saint-Aubin carried out a second experiment using a different group of children in which teachers read two different versions of the same story. In one version, the text was changed to refer to specific details in the pictures. Again, they monitored eye movement and found that on the pages with references to specific picture details, children looked at the corresponding area of the picture nearly the entire time the page was being read. This suggests that the children are paying close attention to the meaning of the text in the story which corresponds to an increased understanding of the storyline and increased vocabulary. However, neither of these two elements directly relate to being able to read.
So, should parent bother taking the time to read to their child every day? Most definitely ‘YES’! Reading books to children helps them develop a love of books and reading. Once children are reading, they need to practise reading in order to improve their reading and it is a love of books and reading that will help in this process.
In addition, reading to your child opens up a world of experiences, knowledge and vocabulary that are not likely be encountered in everyday life. Therefore, it is important to set aside time each day, and as a part of your child’s bedtime routine, for reading. However, be aware that for most children the skill of reading needs to be explicitly taught.
Evans, M.A., & Saint-Aubin, J. (2005) What children are looking at during shared storybook reading: Evidence from eye movement monitoring. Psychological Science, 16(11), 913-920.