Language: Interaction During Reading Is Key To Development

First Posted: Jan 11, 2016 12:06 PM EST

Interaction during reading is key to a baby's language development, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Iowa examined how mothers responded to their 12-month-olds during book reading, puppet play and toy play. They discovered that when there was interaction with puppets or toys, the babies were more likely to make speech-like sounds; mothers were also more responsive to these sounds while reading to their child than during other activities that did not include the sounds.

"A lot of research shows that book reading even to infants as young as six months of age is important to language outcomes, but I'm trying to explain why by looking at the specifics, which could be responding to speech-like sounds," said Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the UI and corresponding author on the study, in a news release. "If we know what specific interactions are occurring between caregiver and child and we can link that to language outcomes, then it wouldn't just be telling parents, 'Read a lot of books to your kids.' That would definitely be important to tell them, but you could also identify specific behaviors to do during book reading."

During the study, researchers examined interactions of 34 mothers and their 12-month-olds duirng three 10-minute periods of different activities that included the three aforementioned activities. The hand puppet was a cloth monkey; the toy was a Fisher-Price barn with manipulative parts, such as buttons to push and knobs to turn; and the books had bright pictures and simple sentences rather than single words or labels, according to the study. The babies were seated in a high chair to control proximity to their mothers and to prevent them from getting up and moving around the play room.

Then, researchers coded each child's vocalizations, as well as his or her mother's responses. Vocalizations included any sound the baby made minus distress cries and fusses, coughs, grunts and hiccups. Mothers' responses were coded for verbal content in the following categories: acknowledgments ("mmm-hmm," "uh-huh"); attributions ("it's pretty"); directives ("push that"); naming ("it's a ball"); play vocalizations ("getcha!"); questions; and imitations/expansions.

"The current findings can contribute to understanding how reading to preverbal infants is associated with language outcomes, which is not well understood in contrast to reading interactions with older toddlers," according to the study.

The study is published in Language and Learning Development.

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