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The way books look, in terms of the arrangement of the illustrations on the page, choice of paper, style, size, and cover, might play a much bigger role in parents’ engagement in reading than previously thought.
(Ilustration photo: Shutterstock / NTB)
A book with great images and a quiet, comfortable place shape how reading in families is done
SHARE YOUR SCIENCE: The overall benefit of shared book reading is lower than previously thought, but still remains a key activity for advancing children’s literacy.
you ask a parent whether they read to their child, they are very likely to say yes.
Reading with children is, especially in Global North countries, considered an activity «par excellence» for children’s learning.
Although recent meta-analyses have shown that the overall benefit is lower than
previously thought, shared book reading remains a key activity for advancing
its documented benefits and relatively low cost of implementation, governments
and educators are interested in supporting all families in reading at home.
Most of the parents who reported to engage in shared reading at home, reported that the visual aspect of reading, such as the images and illustrations in the book, mattered to them more than sounds or the feel and smell of the book.
Some, such as Bookstart, focus on providing universal access to books, while others
train parents on specific reading techniques (for example dialogic reading).
in addition to structural factors, there are some less obvious factors that
play a role in how much families report to be reading at home. In our study, we
focused on two aspects that have not been examined previously:
of engaging individual senses in reading and the place where parents and
children read together.
spatial and sensorial aspects of reading
both spatial and sensorial aspects of reading are central to current reading theories, they have been little examined
empirically. We were keen to understand how much the aspects matter to the
reading habits of Norwegian parents and their 3-6-year-old children.
conducted a survey with a nationally representative sample of 1000 families and
asked them about their preferences for the following:
- the space where they read books
importance of the lighting in the room and comfortable seating
- the sounds and
smell in the room
- the texture of the book when held in their hands
addition to ranking various statements in the survey, parents responded to
open-ended questions and we thematically analysed 926 responses. We found that
out of 1000 parents, only 46 (less than 5 per cent) thought that the place where they
read for their child did not matter.
Parents who reported reading frequently
with their child, also reported that the spatial aspect of reading was
important to them. Most of the parents who reported to engage in shared reading
at home, reported that the visual aspect of reading, such as the images and
illustrations in the book, mattered to them more than sounds or the feel and smell
of the book.
while touching or smelling books was perceived as positive for some parents,
for most parents the sounds during reading were perceived negatively. Parents
who reported reading often also reported to minimize all sounds around them so
that the child could focus on the experience.
The more books the parents
reported to read, the more they also reported to valuing the various sensorial
aspects of reading.
ways of reading
findings are the first to document the extent to which visual and spatial
aspects of reading play in families’ reading preferences. Senses can be
directly stimulated through a book’s design – images that catch the eye,
scratch-and-sniff surfaces that engage the sense of smell or touch & feel
books that stimulate haptics.
Senses can be also stimulated through the reading
environment – the sounds or smells in the room. They are thus aspects that can
be easily addressed in future reading intervention studies.
interventions, recommendations to parents or book-gifting schemes should take
the sensorial aspects into account when supporting parents. The way books look,
in terms of the arrangement of the illustrations on the page, choice of paper,
style, size, and cover, might play a much bigger role in parents’ engagement in
reading than previously thought.
Similarly, the quality of the place where
reading occurs, is important to invest in – for example with comfortable
seating in a quiet place – if more families are to enjoy reading together.
However, the extent to which these aspects
matter to families in different cultures is unknown. It could be that the
visual aspect is particularly important for Norwegian parents because of the
strong emphasis on high-quality illustrations in Norwegian children’s picturebooks.
As such, our study lays the foundation for future work that examines the
importance of a good place and a good book in the reading routines of diverse
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