Preschoolers Who Spend Time with Books Less Likely to Have Behavioral Problems

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Past research has shown that up to one-third of American children entering kindergarten lack at least some of the skills needed for literacy acquisition. Reading with children as early as preschool age is essential to success in future educational efforts, as 85% or more of the curriculum will be delivered by reading in school. But reading doesn’t only benefit children by way of schooling success. Preschoolers who enjoy a good book are also more likely to behave better in the classroom.

The study, which focused on 61 predominantly low-income preschoolers aged 3 to 5, was conducted by Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, an assistant professor of developmental studies, and colleagues at Purdue University. Parents completed questionnaires reporting demographic characteristics, expectations, and their child’s literacy interest (how much they enjoyed looking at books or being read to). Preschool teachers reported on the children’s classroom behavior using standard rating scales based on scores for positive actions and social skills, self-control, attention, and aggression.

Girls More LIkely to Be Interested In Books, Develop Verbal Skills Faster

Overall, when the child was interested in literacy-related activities, they were more likely to show positive, adaptive behavior in the classroom. The researchers also found that girls tended to be more interested in books compared to boys, and the girls were more likely to be better behaved. The gender differences are consistent with other aspects of child development, said Dobbs-Oates. For example, girls typically develop verbal skills more quickly than boys.

Parental expectations about a student’s performance also played a role. When parents expected their child to maintain a higher grade average, the child was most likely to have a strong interest in reading.

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Further research by the team will focus more closely on whether our book choices for our children are “gendered,” says Dobbs-Oates. "Often the books available in preschool classrooms and at homes are fairy tales and similar stories, and research suggests that little boys aren't drawn to these story formats as much as to non-fiction books on topics such as baseball, trains or rocks,” she says.

“Frankly, there aren't as many of these books out there and parents or teachers aren't as likely to choose them. We may be putting boys at a disadvantage by not providing a variety of books that would typically appeal to them. This makes it critical to keep the child's individual interests in mind when visiting a library or stocking a bookshelf."

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Parents should encourage young children to spend time with books each day, following the slogan of The Children’s Reading Foundation – Read with a child. It’s the most important 20 minutes of your day.

The Sesame Workshop offers parents resources to build early literacy skills in young children through its program “Every Day is a Reading and Writing Day.” The materials were developed in collaboration with Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute with a grant from the US Department of Education. The materials offered include a DVD of Sesame Street clips, a video for adults that aims to empower parents as their children’s’ first and most important teachers, and a print guide with activities and information on how to foster a child’s love of reading and writing.

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