I have four children under the age of 9 and both my wife and I work full time. I understand the "busyness" associated with raising children. There are only so many remaining hours left in the day to spend time with our children after work and school. These limited hours are often consumed by making dinner, helping our school-aged children with homework, and completing other odds and ends to prepare for the next day. Most parents like me hastily try to get through books like Pinkalicious or Llama Llama Misses Mama before we get our preschooler into bed. By the end of the night we are exhausted. The research is clear, I know it is important to read to my children, but I often wonder if my focus on "getting it done" due to lack of time actually develops a love of reading within them.
I read a recent research article from the Peabody Reflector at Vanderbilt University. Researchers found that if parents used a simple technique called dialogic questioning while reading, they would improve their children's developing language and literacy skills at a much higher rate. Instead of reading the story straight through, the parent paused occasionally to ask their children open ended questions. Here are some examples provided by the researchers, "What's going to happen next?" or "Why do you think that happened?" When we pause and ask them these types of questions we encourage a deeper understanding and mastery of language that may not have happened if we read straight through. This research has shifted how I read to my children and I feel like they appreciate the conversations that we have while we read. The researchers suggest that the primary goal is not to get to the end of the book, it is the about the engagement between the parent and the child. It's not just about exposing children to a number of words, it's more about engaging with them. Asking what happens next, and listening to their answers that's what brings about language development.
The researchers also studied the effects of shows like Baby Einstein, Dora the Explorer, and Blue's Clues, on preschoolers' learning and found that parents were an important part to their success as well. Each of the above mentioned shows have an element of dialogic questioning embedded within the program. Characters within each of these shows pause and ask children questions like, "where is the blue house?" During the study, children rarely engaged with the question being asked on the television unless a parent helped them. The researchers explained, "For preschoolers, it isn't natural or easy for them to learn from screens. They're going to learn a lot more if an adult is there with them, engaging them, just like you would with a book. A TV character or avatar may engage a child, but for learning purposes, nothing is as effective as a parent or caregiver." When parents watched the show with them their child's vocabulary and comprehension were significantly higher than those who watched the show by themselves. Dialogic questioning is effective in developing early language and literacy skills in both reading and educational programming on television. It really comes down to engagement, how engaged are we in developing our child's early literacy skills?