Shared Book Reading – It Matters More Now than Ever

It is more important than ever to make a concerted effort to interact with young children in our world of digital technology where many toddlers have a device in their hand much of the day. Reading children’s books and telling stories are still some of the best ways in which parents can engage children’s precocious imaginative processes. Books and stories build an imaginative matrix within our minds upon which parents and children can focus joint attention while being playful and taking turns. These mediums are helpful to merge whimsy and logic in ways which illustrate metaphoric relationships that describe our cultural view of the world.

As parents and children read books together, parents and children experience a hypothetical social dilemma and resolution together, and this provides a commonplace for parents and children to create shared social meanings of experiences. Shared book reading is a format which encourages parent and child to take turns in a playful and harmonious way, and it is a method through which some parent-child interventions help teach parents to be more responsive to their child’s needs. Parental reading behaviors are related to attachment styles. Shared book reading is a context within which caregivers can practice responsive parenting, through sharing control for page turning or by sharing interpretations through questioning.

Questions which begin with ‘what if’, ‘imagine that’, ‘how would’ represent a genre of imaginative questions recently termed as possibility thinking, as it encourages the child to consider alternative possibilities to situations.

Shared book reading can be a dynamic and bidirectional interactive experience, dependent on the method of questioning during the activity. Questioning is valuable for children’s learning, and question posing during book reading results in positive developmental outcomes for children. Parents can increase engagement with children by formulating questions with a greater breadth of possible answers, thus expanding the boundaries of the imaginative matrix and creating a safe space for children to take risks with their imagination. Questions which begin with ‘what if’, ‘imagine that’, ‘how would’ represent a genre of imaginative questions termed as possibility thinking, as it encourages the child to consider alternative possibilities to situations.

Creating a safe environment for children to imaginatively answer adult questions also encourages children to experiment with asking their own questions. As supported by social cognitive and attachment theories, when parents ask children open-ended questions, children learn to generate questions through imitation and are incentivized to try for the reward of the social interaction with their parents. In a small study in one classroom of 14 preschool children, creative open-ended questions were taped into children’s books, such as The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Children were sent home with books with embedded question, and parents were encouraged to utilize the questions during book reading activities. While the sample was small, at the end of the study, all of the children preferred the books with the questions taped in, and feedback described how children liked the additional social interaction with their parents. Parents commented that the questions stimulated different kinds of discussion during book reading, which allowed them to listen to their children’s emotions and discover new ways in which their child thought or used imagination. Also by the end of the study, children were formulating more imaginative questions to ask each other and their parents.

Possibility thinking is a technique to engage children in positive interactions with parents while building problem solving skills. Let’s not forget about the benefits of shared and interactive book reading as we move further into a phase in which devices command our children’s attention.

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