Bookish Chatter

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My brother sent me an article about the value added by parent and sibling small talk to the language development of infants. Presumably to entice people to read the article, from England’s, it sported the inflammatory headline:ntholdhands

“Mindless chatter is FOUR TIMES better at improving a child’s communication skills than bedtime reading, claims study”

Really?!? This headline seems a bit reckless as it leads parents to believe that chattering to babies about anything and everything trumps activities like reading to them. As the article unfolds, it reflects that chattering is somehow in conflict with reading aloud to infants and that talking to wee ones is better for helping them learn communication and problem solving skills than reading.

I believe, and mountains of other research supports, that reading aloud tops the list of things parents can do with their children to help them prepare for school and the world beyond. However, it’s not the end all, be all. Casually talking to infants has merits, too, but it does so most powerfully IN COMBINATION WITH READING ALOUD.

The actual research article* has nothing about “four times” anything, nor is bedtime mentioned. However, it does include the following in its abstract,

“The findings highlight the potential of reading and talking to infants, not just for language and literacy development but also for other aspects of cognitive development.”

Yes, reading AND talking. I do agree that talking with, and not just to, small children is absolutely essential; it’s unequivocal on that point. Through casual verbal interactions children learn how language works and how they can use it to process information, problem solve and, well, communicate!

BOTH talking and reading have a role to play that complements each other. The research is abundantly clear that together, these two help form a foundation of strong language and interaction that promises to propel children through a successful start in school and life.

BOTH chatting to and reading with babies and children can and should be a significant part of their daily lives. No books at home? One way Unite for Literacy helps make this possible is by providing free, relevant picture books within easy reach of millions of families around the world through mobile networks and the Internet.

Parents of young children need the support of all of us—family, friends, educators, and the business and professional communities. Moms and dads are bombarded by “ought-to’s” and “should-have’s” every day and even the most sophisticated parents find their attempts at supporting their children’s cognitive and affective growth to be littered with too much conflicting information about what’s best.

So, please dear readers (and you parents, too)  let us not complicate our lives by promulgating unnecessary either/or’s. Rather let’s promote all the good ways we can each help children become happy and actively literate citizens.


*Murray, A. & Egan S. 2014. Does reading to infants benefit their cognitive development at 9-months-old? An investigation using a large birth cohort survey. Child Language Teaching and Therapy , Vol. 30(3) 303–315.