NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Story time is a fun time for preschoolers like the 3 and 4 year olds at this Nashville child care center. But the activity has a greater purpose—one that can bring success later when these kids are in grade school and even high school.
“They learn more about cognitive thinking. When she reads the books, she’s asking questions so it’s giving them an opportunity to think and answer questions according to the books that she reads to us,” explains Vickie Bellamy, the pre-K teacher.
The volunteer who is reading to the children asks if any know what letter “frog” begins with. The kids start guessing and one soon shouts out proudly “F!” Even at this age, some of the children know this activity is more than having fun talking about frogs. They know this is about learning.
“I learn something all the books she reads,” says 4-year-old Kingston (or K.J. to his friends).
His friend, Jordyn, a 4-year-old girl gives an example of something she learned from the story.
“I don’t like frogs ‘cause they’re super slimey!” she says in a fit of giggles.
Research supports the idea that interactive reading to children at a young age has a direct effect on their outcomes in school– regardless of family background and home environment.
One study found that:
- Reading to children for at least 3 days a week gives a 4 year old the reading skills of a child that is 6 months older
- Reading to children at least 6 days a week gives them the reading skills of a child that is 12 months older.
Another study by a university in London found that children who were read to regularly by their parents at age five perform better on tests for math, vocabulary and spelling at age 16 than students who were not read to regularly as preschoolers.
But early childhood educators say some positive effects show up right away.
“You can see it in their attention span,” says Samantha Barclay, an early childhood teacher. “A 2-year-old can be very rambunctious, wants to get up and do everything. But they sit down, they’re very attentive, they’re very observant when it comes to what’s going on in the book. They’re able to pick out certain things that maybe most people won’t recognize. One of the children when we were watching the last story that she read, noticed that the frog had a gold tooth—something that I didn’t even see at first.
In the story book, one of the pictures shows the frog smiling broadly—revealing a gold tooth.
“It’s not just about them reading,” according to Barclay. “It’s about understanding what you read and being able to apply that to everything you do.”