Shared moments of quality reading time throughout the day help children develop a real love of language.
As a parent, you know that reading with your preschooler sets a solid foundation for their language development. Research shows that these shared reading experiences during early years accelerate children’s oral language skills (Pollard-Durodola, 2011).
In fact, these moments of shared reading help create an immense number of new connections between neurons while strengthening existing ones. Recent scientific studies have found that children who are more exposed to reading environments at home develop larger neural circuits that support narrative comprehension (Hutton et al., 2015). This is a clear case of biological embedding – a process in which the brain undergoes long-term physical changes in response to cognitive stimulation during early childhood.
Shared reading is so influential for the child, in fact, that even modest increases in shared reading are associated with improved brain function in the areas supporting literacy (Hutton et al., 2017). The latter study has also found that children who are encouraged to engage reciprocally with the reader, in the form of questions and exchange of opinions, can form stronger social-emotional connections between stories and their own lives.
But these reading experiences are not limited to stories, nor are they just for bedtime. Indeed, leading headteacher Emma Madden recommends reading anything and everything aloud.
Here, we’ve identified three everyday activities that are great opportunities for shared reading
1. Family mealtime
Family meals are not only for hungry stomachs, but also for ravenous minds! Our new R-r-ready for School Word a Day and Storyteller’s Word a Day kitchen counter books are a convenient, fun, and effective way to get the word habit started! Simply place it on your kitchen counter read the words, and talk about the words and illustrations together during meal times. After all, research shows that nothing develops children’s thinking and language use more than shared reading experiences and meaningful conversations with adults (Hutton et al., 2015; Hadani et al., 2017).
2. The journey to school
The daily journey to school is the perfect opportunity for shared reading – words are everywhere!. Point out a passing billboard and ask your child what they think it might mean. This connection of words with images will fire up their mirror neurons, highlighting their role in visual learning. Even reading road signs together can be effective; the shapes and colors of signs can help reinforce children’s understanding of the words.
3. A trip to the supermarket
As well as filling the family fridge with food for the week, a trip to the supermarket can also provide plenty of shared reading opportunities. What do the words mean on the colorful cans of corn? How do you pronounce the words on the bottle of milk? This connection between food images and words will make for delicious word relationships. This kind of shared reading helps emphasize the relationships between words and their associated concepts (Gonzalez et al., 2011; Pollard-Durodola et al., 2011), and makes shopping much more fun!
- Gonzalez, J. E., S. Pollard-Durodola, D. C. Simmons, A. B. Taylor, M. J. Davis, M. Kim, L. Simmons. 2011. Developing low-Income preschoolers’ social studies and science vocabulary knowledge through content-focused shared book reading. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 4(1): 25-52.
- Hadani, H., G. Jaeger, K. Kennedy, E. Rood, S. Russ (2017). Creativity Trend Report. Vol 2. Center for Childhood Creativity. Sausalito, CA.
- Hutton, J., Phelan, K., Horowitz-Kraus, T., Dudley, J., Altaye, M., DeWitt, T., and Holland, S. (2017). Story time turbocharger? Child engagement during shared reading and cerebellar activation and connectivity in preschool-age children listening to stories. Plos one, 12(5).
- Hutton, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., Mendelsohn, A., DeWitt, T., Holland, T., the C-MIND Authorship Consortium, (2015). Home reading environment and brain activation in preschool children listening to stories. Pediatrics, 136 (3): 466-78.
- Pollard-Durodola, S.D., J. E. Gonzalez, D. C. Simmons, M. J. Davis, L. Simmons, M. Nava-Walichowski. 2011. Using knowledge networks to develop preschoolers’ content vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 65 (4): 265-274.