Thursday, May 7, 2009

Picture Books Stories to build Vocabulary? Absolutely.

Words to consider: consider words too
If you thought that story books for children age 4 through 6 should have simpler word choices than age 7 through 9, think again.  As parents we're always trying to do what is best for our children. Sometimes it can be confusing.  Think of the Baby Einstein videos that ironically, research now indicates, lead to LESS vocabulary development.  In the same way, many people - even some authors, literary agents, and editors at publishing houses who consider words very carefully, operate under the misguided assumption that books we read to our kids should only contain the most commonly used words.  However, research suggests just the opposite.
Before your children can read is the ideal time to be building their vocabulary through stories. There are several reasons:

1.) This is the time you are reading stories to them, so you are there to immediately explain and answer their questions. Moreover, the same book is often read again and again. Usually by the second or third time, no explanation is needed but the vocabulary in contexts is still being reinforced. When children get older and are reading on their own, books with too many words they don't understand could confuse them or make them less motivated to read that story.

2.) Pre-literacy is a time of maximum impact. Scientific studies show that early vocabulary development leads to better vocabulary in later school years.  According to the article "The Developing Child", by Elizabeth Gudrais, Harvard Magazine, "Children's vocabulary at age five very reliably predicts the number of words they know in sixth grade."

3) Research on the way children learn shows that introducing vocabulary through stories is more effective then memorization.  And of course we all know, stories are more fun!

As parents this is just one more thing to keep an eye out for when making our book buying selection. As children book authors and others in the industry, we should consider this vocabulary challenge. Yes, our stories should be fun, captivating, and layered enough to endure reading over and over. Yes, they must also be concise – too many words without pictures will lose our young audience. But the words we choose should be the best words, not necessarily or even preferable the most common.