Talking about Books: Moms Sharing Books with Toddlers

Mom and toddler sharing a book

A recent article shows that books with a story line provide moms (and presumably dads) with unique opportunities for complex talk. What do you talk about when you read a story with your baby?

This study (there’s a pdf file on the website!) was done fairly recently at the University of Waterloo Centre for Child Studies (the first author is a PhD student at the centre, which, let me tell you, does nothing for my self esteem considering I have published, to date, a few measly posters. But that’s besides the point completely). They wanted to compare the way moms talk to their toddlers when sharing a book with a story line as opposed to a “didactic” book – one with no narrative. The design is fantastic – they controlled for all sorts of things, including the length of the books, the theme of the books, and so on – which makes it possible to look at the factor they were interested in: the storyline.

The stories and the storylines were very simple, as this was done with moms of toddlers. By the way, I’m sure they tried to get dads, but the fact is that most of the times when you are recruiting children for studies, it’s mom that brings them into the lab. They looked at all sorts of things such as tense use (mothers used more tenses – past, future, and present – when sharing a story), mental state references (mothers used more words like remember, think, want – words that refer to mental states; mental states talk by moms was found to be related to children’s theory of mind skills).

While reading this fantastic study, I kept trying to think about what I talk about with my kids when we read a book. I found myself consciously increasing the complexity levels of what I say to my kids while we read a story. I don’t know how long this would last, but at least this week we are reading more books and making links between what we see in the books and what we did or saw before, or what we will be doing in the future.

What about you? What kinds of things do you talk about when reading a story with your child? Or do you just keep to the text in the book?