Talking with children is critical. But it doesn’t replace reading. According to recent research, picture books are a richer source of vocabulary, with more and varied words, than conversation. A separate study looked at the effect of the size of a child’s vocabulary at age 2 on academic performance and behavior at age 5.
These studies are important in part because their findings contain valuable information about how to help children prepare for success in school. The bottom line is that it’s never too early to read to young children. And the more, the better.
The study on early vocabulary, published in Child Development, found that a child’s vocabulary at age 2 predicts later success in kindergarten. Children with larger vocabularies at age 2 entered kindergarten better prepared – in terms of both academics and behavior – than children with smaller vocabularies.
The study is one of the first to link vocabulary skills of young children to later success in both academic achievement and ability to regulate behavior, according to a review of the study by Aaron Loewenberg of New America’s Early Education Initiative. Prior studies had much smaller sample sizes and had not looked at the connection between vocabulary and behavior.
“Children with a larger oral vocabulary at age 2 not only entered kindergarten with higher levels of math and literacy achievement, but were also found to display greater behavioral self-regulation and fewer anxiety-related behavior problems, such as excessive worrying and extreme shyness,” Loewenberg wrote. “This advantage held even when other variables, such as students’ general cognitive functioning at age 2, were controlled for, providing strong evidence for a direct link between 2-year-old vocabulary levels and success later in life.”
The second study, published in Psychological Science, found that picture books are a richer source of unique words than conversation. The researchers compared conversation between parents and their children with the words in picture books. Read an article about the study here. The researchers found that picture books have 72 percent more unique words than conversation.
If you think about it, that makes sense. Our conversation tends to reflect our immediate environment, while picture books tell wildly different stories, many of them far removed from families’ daily experiences.
“Unlike conversations, books are not limited by here-and-now constraints; each book may be different from others in topic or content, opening new domains for discovery and bringing new words into play,” the study team writes. What counts, they write, is variety.