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April 14, 2010


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My husband and I are both big readers and have been reading to DS since 3 months. One of the things later on in childhood that my parents did was never limit my reading to books that should be read by my age group. In my experience, this was great, since I read more sophisticated books, although still "appropriate" and developed a love of reading. They also read the newspaper every morning at breakfast, a tradition I continue with my son, even at 2 and a half. Very early on, before he could talk, he could pick out "the Elmo book" or "Mother" (Are you my mother) or other books and know which books were which.

What an interesting post! I am so in the parents gets to bring the enjoyment aspect of reading and books and leave the other stuff to teachers-camp. But we do thoroughly enjoy books at our house. (Not always the same ones. Where did the little engine that could go? Ahem.)

Regarding the pictures being more realistic or cartoonish: I have been amazed of how accepting my kids are of "my" books (I make simple books about upcoming events, like trips or moving, or our daily routines). I am no artist, by any stretch, but the 1- and the 5-year-old happily accept my scribbles as representations of anything from airplanes to grandma.

Very interesting! And it really seems to jive with what I've seen. We have a different Curious George book where there are pictures with the letters of the alphabet as part of the pictures, and I long ago realized that my daughter did not even notice that there were letters. Even when she was at a stage where she loved to point out letters. I believe she saw only the picture. Good thing I didn't quiz her on it. hehe.

Two things I'm curious about:
1. Is there any research about those books that simply list words and have pictures with them? Like (I'm making this book up) Baby's First Book of Words? What's the usefulness (if any) with those books?

2. Recently I started asking my daughter (just turned 3) questions about what happened books we just finished reading or shows we just finished watching. It struck me that I was basically prepping her (unintentionally) for those reading comprehension tests, which I always did well on. Is this a useful thing to do with kids? Or is it just fun for me to see what she is taking away from our reading/watching things?

@Mia - I love that you make simple books for upcoming events! I want to do that!

Children will generally take your drawings as what you intend them to be.
If you say the scribble is grandma, it is. But with a novel book there is no one there to put the author's intention across, it's implied. It's not that they absolutely don't learn from more stylized drawings, just that they generalize more when the "perceptual distance" between the symbol and the thing it stands for is minimized. And BTW, I am still a fan of the Little Engine that Could (even if some of the toys and "treats" are now a bit quaint!).

Love the newspaper at breakfast! Love it. Forgot to mention how important it is to model reading to children. If they see you do it, they'll want to do it too. Also, if you set aside time for it e.g. after dinner we read for 15-20 minutes (as in your read your books and I read mine or the paper of something), children take to this ritual really well (not very young ones of course, by I do it with my 5-year old).

So fantastic that you often comment on our posts. It really helps us feel connected. Thanks.

Great q's.
I don't know of any research explicity on those 1 word, 1 pic books but we had loads of those and loved them. There is one series in particular that I passed on to Bella's boys. I'll have to ask her for the series name.
They are fantastic, one realistic colour photograph of a single item or idea and one clearly printed word below it. A super-duper start for babies. Now I'm wracking my brains...stay tuned.

re: asking q's after reading or tv/movie viewing
Awesome. There's a whole laundry list here of the benefits; bonding with you, "active" viewing or reading (= more retention), the whole reflective thing...it's ALL good. Never mind the tests, if you enjoy it and keep it up, the tests will one day take care of themselves.

My daughter is 18 months and for the past few months those "Baby's First Words" books have been her favorite because she is learning vocabulary and loves to point at the picture and triumphantly say the correct word. The "Bright Baby" books are her favorites, but she also loves the Usborne "Very First Words" which has clay representations of each item, which seems to be a nice blend of cartoon and realistic because it appeals to her.

We are huge readers and Evie's board book library is obscenely huge, but if I have to pick out just a handful of favorites I would recommend the DK peekaboo! books...those have been favorites for many months because they combine a sturdy lift-the-flap with touch and feel. She has been lifting those flaps and feeling the textures since about 8 months old and only a couple of them have ripped. They are always in our diaper bag on plane trips. :)

No comment on books, but on word learning, yes: we just finished being test subjects -- well, my child did -- at a current research project at Berkeley. It's about the shape bias question and the rational constructivist view. I got home and ran to read a paper on it by the same researcher to put our participation in the study into perspective.

It's fascinating stuff. And yes, heady. I'd love to hear what our psychs think of the overhypothesis formation as a learning mechanism.

Briefly, the "shape bias" refers to the finding that when babies learn a new word they tend to generalize that word (also apply it) to objects of a similar shape. It's considered a bias because they seem to prioritize shape information over other perceptually available information about the objects. The phenomenon was first documented in the late 80's but there is still much research activity on the topic, in part because the extent to which the shape bias is innate vs. learned is hotly debated. There have been some ingenious experiments over the last 2 decades on the topic.

The reading is pretty dense, but if you are up for it, take a look at this:

I take it you were visiting Fei Xu's lab? Fun stuff?

Ha! It's the Bright Baby series I was referring to. Thank-you! Now maybe I'll get some sleep tonight. Anyone who is interested, take a look:

Great reviews.

The others in the series are on colours, trucks, animals etc. Enjoy!

We are very lucky in that the bops is a huge lover of books at 2, and is starting to be able to read some phonics and about 4 sight words (the, to, you, are). I worry that I'm being one of those "hothouse" parents by helping her learn to read at this age, but I really do think she enjoys it and I back off if she decides she doesn't want to learn a new grapheme today.

My mother-in-law has given the bops several books, and every single one of them has some kind of gimmick: buttons to press to make a battery-operated sound, ribbons to pull to change the picture, or tabs to move back and forth to make a character in the picture move. I don't think it would be polite to tell her that the bops is totally enthralled with a book whether it has a gimmick or not, and that the more delicate ones are quickly destroyed in one or two sessions of overenthusiastic manipulation.

We have also received a few of those one word - one picture books as gifts and at first I wasn't particularly enthused by them (I prefer stories). But the bops absolutely adores them. The simple ones like "Happy baby colors" and "Bright baby touch and feel: On the farm" are popular and memorised. She knows every word in the quite long "Usborne Book of Everyday Words" and where to find the appropriate object in the photos of fimo sculptures. She's recently been going through a (ridiculously cute) phase of using the word "remember" and it's fun to see her make links between the real world and books. For example, if I say "Look, a lamppost" she responds with "Remember Everyday Words?" as one of the words in the book is "lamppost." I'm not sure that before I've pointed out the connection, though, that she was entirely clear that the sculptures in the book corresponded to real objects.

Thanks for this post; I wasn't aware of many of these research findings and they will help me read with my daughter.

Before bedtime, particularly on weekends when their dad is home, we have about 15 minutes of 'quiet time' where we insist that the kids do an activity that doesn't hype them up too much. Both kids (3.25 and 5.25) will sit down with a book and 'read' by themsleves, or ocassionally read a book thay have memorised to each other. It is so beautiful to see the 3 year old actually reading a story to the older child (the older one turns the pages). The Thomas books, definitely the favourites around here, have done wonders for my kids' vocab. Apart from 'botheration' which is now one of the 5 year old's favourite words, The 3 year old has now quite an array of reporting words under her belt, thanks to Thomas and the crew. She'll be there playing with her Thomas trains and murmur to herself, 'My plough is so awkward and heavy, grumbled Thomas' or 'Bouncing buffers, thpluttered Stepney'. It cracks me up every time.

As a side note, I often wonder if I should be working more at 'academic' stuff with my 5.25 year old. He is only just now showing interest in letters and numbers and has just started to write his name. Here in Italy (well in Italian kindergartens)they prefer to stay away from any formal teaching of letters/numbers until Primary School as they say it can cause confusion when the child eventually starts learning at big school. This has even been confirmed by our Ped. What do you think Tracey?

It's interesting--I started reading to my son at about six months, and he didn't even really look at the books until around a year old. I started reading to my daughter at about three months and she has been interested in the books from the start. He is now a little over 3 and loves books. She is 10.5 months and, interestingly, shows a real preference. Her favorite books are ones with pictures of babies. She likes playing with her brother's toy trucks, but when I try to read her a book about cars or trucks she is completely uninterested.

I take these differences as a mixture of (mostly) individual personality and perhaps some gender-related stuff. But they're still interesting.

By the way, for people with older children, there is a great blog about childrens'/YA books, called The Diamond in the Window, here: http://thediamondinthewindow.typepad.com/

We're big readers.

My older daughter (she's 3) gets a lot of books sent to her by her grandparents in New Zealand. Those are usually fun stories and almost always rhyme. My Mom (a former elementary school teacher) told me that there are two different schools of thought on reading, and that New Zealand has gone with the stories/word play approach (can't remember what it is actually called) and we in the US have gone with a more phonics-based approach. I like the fact that Pumpkin will get a mix.

@caramama- we have that same Curious George book! And our Pumpkin totally ignores the letters, too, and focuses on pointing out when George shows up in the picture. We've really enjoyed the Bird Alphabet book by Jerry Pallotta (http://www.amazon.com/Bird-Alphabet-Jerry-Pallottas-Books/dp/0881064572/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271359733&sr=8-2) - Pumpkin has always loved birds.

We have a lot of the Bright Baby books, and she has always liked them, too. I have noticed that she has changed how she interacts with them as she gets older.

We're just starting chapter books with her- we've started reading Winnie the Pooh. I think she may still be a little too young for that, though, since she hasn't really grasped the chapter concept, and she keeps asking why there aren't more pictures! So we've put that aside and will come back to it later.

The younger daughter, Petunia, is 6 months old. I've been reading to her practically from birth- same as we did for Pumpkin. Petunia has just started turning pages on board books. I think this is more about her testing our her motor control (she is also picking things up off of tables, etc) than anything else, but it is still cute. For really early reading, we had the best luck with the high contrast black and white books. My favorite of these is "I Kissed the Baby" by Mary Murphy. I doubt she knows what the pictures represent, but the high contrast graphics hold her attention.

Good to know about the one word-one picture books. I guess I'll give them more of a shot--I might be surprised.

I was thinking about my kids and reading and wanted to share something else, in case it resonates with anyone else...

My daughter is highly active (and spirited), and she has gone through many periods of not seeming interested in books. But we are big readers, so we model it and kept trying when we thought she'd be interested. I discovered early that touch and feel books and ones with flaps or movement were the ones that would hold her interest at all, especially before 18 months old. In fact, the more gimmicky the better, for her. I don't know if this is true of most kids, but my girl is so physical and active that she needed some way to interact with the books. (That's pretty much why I skipped the one word-one picture books with her.)

Now at 3, she loves to sit and read, with us and by herself a little bit.

@Tracy, yes, it's Fei Xu's lab. We did have fun!

Re: books, from practically birth on, I would read my books or magazines aloud just so my child could hear my intonation. We started with those one-word picture books, too -- Baby's First 100 Words, etc.

I found that Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is perfect for little ones; it's just as the research has shown -- nothing stylized in the letters.

we're in a reading rut here. For the past 3 weeks we've read almost nothing but Richard Scarry's big book of cars and trucks and things that go. This was a birthday gift to my boys when they turned 3. I am so sick of this book, and 'reading' consists of me opening the book, trying to sound interested as I point to the various vehicles, and them just gabbing on and on about absolutely everything on absolutely every page like they're seeing it for the first time again. I feel bad for being so sick of a book that they obviously enjoy immensely. I try to skip pages, and get caught. I try to suggest other books, and sometimes that works, but always back to cars and trucks. The only thing that has distracted them a little is a photo-book on airplanes ("the double-decker airbus A380 is the biggest passenger jet in the world"). I just want a good story!

I'd love to read to my son. In fact, I used to when he was very small, but haven't been able to since he reached about 10 months of age. That's when he started grabbing the pages and turning them while I was reading. He just doesn't seem interested although he used to love it. Now he will look at picture books and name the items off (he's 22 months old). I'm open to any ideas of how I can get him to sit still for a few minutes to read a book.


That was my daughter. Apart from the grabbing (tearing in many cases) and throwing of the books we were reading, she would often just crawl/walk away. She genuinely didn't seem interested in books, until well over 2 years old. I just plowed thru, seeing my older child was the book worm and loved being read to. I figured she would learn to love them thru osmosis. Which is what must have happened becasue now at 3.25 she can not get enough of them.

Good luck.

@zed - I feel your pain! We just went through that with some di$ney book of characters that bores the crap out of me, and she would take forever to read it right before bedtime. I finally told her it is too long to read before bed, and if she wants to read 3 books, she has to pick short ones. That has been working... so far... Thank goodness she is finally able to be reasoned with a bit!

@Mary - We went through that. I had to find more interactive books (lift-the-flap, touch-and-feel, etc.). I would also sometimes just keep reading the book while she ran around the room, occassionally coming by to look at a picture. I figured it was still modeling and sinking in and that it was just a phase. Sure enough, she now LOVES to sit and read. Keep trying!

Annika (2 years) loves the Happy Baby ABC and Happy Baby 123 books, which fit into the simple, clear picture with word/letter/number category. I guess it's teaching her something, because she's getting pretty good at counting, and identifying letters.

Of course, she also loves all kinds of other books, including some that appear to be way over her head (like "Arthur Meets the President"). I wonder sometimes what she makes of books like that - she's not familiar with school or presidents or any of that, but maybe the appeal at this point is mostly in the drawings.

Mary, I would definitely say just read to him while he roams around the room. No point in trying to get an active toddler to stay still! He'll get a lot of the benefits (hearing the vocabulary, learning that reading is important to you) from across the room.

Also, since Cloud mentioned New Zealand, I have to say we're all quite fond of Lynley Dodd and the Hairy Maclary series.

Wow! Thanks everyone for lively, interesting response to the post. I'm going to take this to mean that you are up for more stuff on symbols. This is a personal focus and research fave, so stay tuned.

I can't think of a good reason to "stay away" from early learning of letters and numbers, in general. I know of no research that shows that early knowledge of this sort could be damaging. And certainly in North America, many believe it is essential to later academic achievement.

However, I think it important to consider the broader context in which your child is being educated. If you plan to stay in Italy and the prevailing wisdom is to steer clear of "formalized" knowledge of the alphabet etc. until early school, then perhaps this makes sense. The school system your children will eventually enter into is probably then designed to cope with this. And it could be that their particular type of early instruction is more effective if children come in with relatively little prior knowledge.

The fact is, that barring something unusual, chances are your children will grasp on to this stuff and learn to read just fine whether on the early or the late side.

Actually, this goes to @Dr. Confused as well.
As long as you are not pushing and the activity is for fun, you are not harming her. What you describe isn't all aimed at reading. Just forming assocations, remembering them and calling on them when they are relevant is a great thing to practice (heck even at our age!).

My more general point here is that literacy centred activities early on - provided they are aimed more at enjoyment than say, achievement - cannot really go wrong. There are not just great cognitive benefits but also the social and emotional aspects of sharing all this great stuff with your child. My view is that it's good to do these things, because it's just generally good to cultivate a thinking little person. You don't have to have any more defined a goal than that. The benefits will spillover to academic stuff when the time comes.

Kudos to all of you for your attention to this stuff. A well-armed parent is already a better one.

You are referring to the "whole language" or "whole word" vs. "phonetic" approaches to reading. In short, it refers to learning to recognize whole words vs. learning the sounds and then sounding them out. Though hotly debated (and I mean hotly!) for decades, the evidence is solidly on the side of phonetics. As in, you need explicit knowledge of letter-sound correspondences eventually, especially to be able to decipher completely new words.

That does not mean rush right out and start putting your children through their phonetics paces pre, pre-school. Again, I'd go with the idea that early literacy activities are more for enjoyment. Let the natural interest, which may emerge on different schedules for different children (as many pointed out), catch on first. It can only help to have piqued their interest before they start to get the more formalized stuff.

Dude. Feeling your pain. Oh how I had to read Richard Scarry's cars and trucks and things etc. But please, I'm tellling you...you need to find Goldbug. You know the little bug thing, he's on practically every page. Get them engaged in finding that bug and you will be able to tolerate the whole thing a lot more.

Richard Scarry is dense. I'm amazed the little eyes did not just glaze over in overstimulation. Amazing little monkeys they are.

Now take a deep breath and repeat after me: "This too shall pass".

Almost forgot... try Richard Scarry's a Day at the Airport. A good compromise between what they like to look at, and at least there's a story in there (however, hokey may or may not be). :-)

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