The Power of Reading to Your Little One

Reading, Dr. Lori Gore-GreenIt’s no real surprise that reading to your child is important. From soothing your baby with the comforting sound of your voice, to encouraging your toddler’s comprehension of vocabulary, reading is critical to your child’s development. A recent study revealed one more reason that it’s important for parents to read to their children.

According to Jessica L. Montag, Michael N. Jones and Linda B. Smith of the Department of Psychological and brain Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington, the text found in children’s books contains a greater diversity of both words and linguistic contexts than what they would be exposed to outside of these books. Montag and her team examined 100 children’s picture books and compared that to child-directed conversations of comparable length. The findings of this study supports the theory that the text in children’s picture books are an important point of reference for vocabulary for young children. The study and findings also support the importance of reading to children as the critical link for children to receive these benefits.

During a recent interview, Montag confided that, “The guiding question for this work was, ‘What might the text of the books be providing that everyday speech is not for these children.’”


And the answer was overwhelming. The text in the most popular and highly recommended picture books contained about seventy percent more unique words as compared to those used in speech. The team selected their sample texts based on rankings from Amazon book lists, reading lists from teachers and librarians, as well as statistics pulled from the public library. While it’s important to remember that this number is not infallible – owing to the somewhat limited sample size. Perhaps if the book list and subject sample size were expanded the percentage would drop slightly. However, even if that percentage dropped, the point remains the same. A child’s linguistic skills have the potential to greatly improve when a picture book is read to him or her.


Montag believes that “…the real benefit of books is that they introduce new topics and new words that are generally outside the scope of a child’s day-to-day life.” She goes on to say that, “…books allow you to talk about more different things in more different contexts…It’s a lot of really fun play, with stories and with language.” This is in sharp contrast to the traditionally simple sentences that people often use when talking to children.


Whether it’s the vocabulary, use of complex sentences or diversity of linguistic contexts, the message is clear… Read to your children!