December 18, 2017

Now that you’ve procreated, read the right books to your kids


As parents everywhere put their final thoughts into the primary-colored plastic doodads that Santa may or may not bring, I’m reminded that it’s also nice to buy kids books.

Or wait, am I the one reminding you? It’s unclear — I seem to have drifted off, recalling the race car bed my parents never bought for me. A race car bed that Fisher-Price advertises with an image of a mother reading to her young child. That child could ’ve been me, is all I’m saying. Me, reading with my mom… in a race car bed. (I’m not crying; you’re crying.)

Overpriced childhood fantasies aside, the aforementioned mom reading to her kid is a big deal. Reading aloud to children is a major boon to their verbal and cognitive development, according to many authorities on the subject (here’s a Time article, for starters).

Now, new research is looking to see which books are best for reading to infants. Lisa S. Scott, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida, recently conducted a study of infants six to nine months old, to see how labels and names correlate to kids’ attention to the story.

Last week, Scott wrote about the results of that study at Quartz:

What this ever-present advice to read with infants doesn’t necessarily make clear, though, is that what’s on the pages may be just as important as the book-reading experience itself… In our investigations, my colleagues and I followed infants across the second six months of life. We’ve found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later in childhood.

So to maximize the benefits of reading to your children, you should choose books that are more likely to stimulate them. While Scott does not go so far as to recommend specific books from the research, she does name Pat the Bunny and Dear Zoo from her own parenting experience. Beyond that, you can always consult a bookseller or librarian. Or try thumbing through a book before you buy it.

Scott ends by saying that these results are not one hundred percent conclusive. It’s unclear whether the children were engaging more because of the names and specific objects, or because the books that included them also encouraged parents to talk more. She also offers this handy piece of advice from raising her own kids: “If names weren’t in the book, we simply made them up.”

Scott is notably silent, though, on the cognitive benefits of reading in race car beds. Clearly further research is needed.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.