I’ve read Green Eggs and Ham so many times that I can repeat it word for word. Same for Good Night Moon and Hop on Pop. My life would be infinitely better if I never have to see those books again! Research shows, however, that kids need the parent-child interaction that happens while reading books together.
Reading books with our kids is different than watching TV with them. TV encourages us to sit there, be quiet, and watch. When I read books with my kindergartner, however, I am constantly asking and responding to questions. A 2011 study explored these differences in detail. 73 children (preschoolers and toddlers) and each of their mothers were brought to a lab on a university campus and either (1) read books together, (2) watched TV together, or (3) played with toys together. Participants were videotaped during the 30-minute session, and researchers counted every act of communication between the mother and the child. Each mother-child interaction during the session was also categorized for how “responsive” the mother’s communication was. Examples of responsive communication included asking questions, providing affirmations of the child’s communication, imitating the child’s communication, and responding to the child instead of simply providing information to the child. Children were also interviewed to assess their early literacy skills.
Results showed that mothers communicated significantly more with their child when they read books with them than when they watched TV with them, and that takes into account the communication used to actually read the stories. The same was true for playing with toys with kids. In addition, mothers’ communication was much more responsive, or sophisticated, while reading books than while playing with toys or watching TV.
Why is this important? Because, the study showed, the sophistication of mothers’ communication to children was related to some aspects of children’s emerging literacy skills. Early literacy skills, in turn, are related to academic and reading achievement.
Now, I believe that it is okay to turn the TV on and let it babysit your kids once in awhile. Sometimes, that’s the only way we as parents get anything done. But, the next time your little one hands you a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or Guess How Much I Love You, remember that you’re doing their literacy skills, and their future academic achievement, a favor.