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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.
If 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
Given 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.
But 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:
the importance of engaging individual senses in reading and the place where parents and children read together.
The spatial and sensorial aspects of reading
Although 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.
We 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
- the 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
In 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.
Interestingly, 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.
New ways of reading
Our 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.
Future 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 families.
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