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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Unless you are really lucky and happen to live near a safari or in a high-rise by a zoo, you probably don’t live in an area in which your child is exposed to animals like lions, tigers, and bears very often, if at all!  But many children know that a lion roars, a tiger has stripes, and a bear walks on all fours and is fuzzy.  How is it that young children learn about animals that they rarely, if ever, actually see in real life?  It may seem easy enough to you, but do you remember how hard it was to learn about scientific concepts like electrons and neutrons because you couldn’t actually SEE them?  This raises an interesting challenge – how do children learn about things that we don’t experience in everyday life?

Books plays a key role in exposing children (and adults) to worlds that exist outside of their everyday reality.  A recent paper published online in the journal Child Development examines what children learn from books.  Researchers from the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and the University of Virginia completed a set of studies examining whether young children could learn information about animals from a picture book and furthermore, could they actually transfer (or extend) this new information to a new animal example or even a real animal?  The researchers first showed 3- and 4-year old children photographs of animals (lizards or caterpillars)  – some of these animals were camouflaged by the background of the picture (i.e., a blue caterpillar in front of a blue background) and some of the animals were not (i.e., a blue caterpillar in front of a red background).  The researchers asked the children which creature was more likely to be eaten by a hungry hawk.  About 57 percent of the children chose the non-camouflaged animal.  Next, the researcher read a picture book to the child which explained how it was harder for a bird to find a frog that was the same color as its surroundings versus a different color.  Then, each child was shown photographs of camouflaged and non-camouflaged frogs and butterflies and asked which would be most likely to be eaten by that pesky hungry hawk.  This allowed researchers to see if children were able to learn from reading the picture book and also whether they were able to apply this new knowledge about camouflage to new creatures (i.e., the butterfly).  It turns out that the simple act of reading a picture book helped children to learn about the concept of camouflage and now 73 percent (compared to 57 percent before they read the picture book) of children chose the non-camouflaged animal when asked about which would be more likely to be eaten.

The researchers also asked whether the story was told in a fact-based way (i.e., factual based statements about animals and camouflage) and an anthropomorphized way (i.e.,  giving the animals feelings and intentions) – it turns out that children were equally able to learn from both kids of stories.  The final question that the researchers asked was whether children would be able to transfer the knowledge that they gained about camouflage to real, live animals.  This time, instead of showing children new pictures after reading a picture book, children were asked to find a ‘safe home’ for a real-life crab and a lizard and choose between two tanks – one which matched the color of the animals and one that did not.  While this was a little harder for kids, they were still able to transfer this brand new knowledge about camouflage to real-life examples.

What does this mean for you?  The fact that 3- and 4-year old children can learn about the biological concept of camouflage just from reading a book suggests that children are learning information about the big, huge world around us from the books that are right in our homes, schools, and libraries.  This means that reading books with your kids isn’t just a fun activity – it is helping them to learn about the world around them – even worlds that they don’t directly experience!  This explains why your little one may love elephants and know that they use their trunks spray water even if they have never seen an elephant before!  If you think about it, this isn’t so easy – in order for children to learn from books, they have to understand that the picture or illustration of an animal or objects on a page actually represents something in the real world. So before your next trip to the zoo, read a book about animals and then talk with your child about the fun new facts that you learned from the book and how it relates to the real animals you see in front of you.  Together, you and your child can explore amazing worlds full of whales, giraffes, and elephants – oh my!

Featured Article:

Ganea, P.A., Ma., L., & DeLoache, J.S. (in press). Young Children’s learning and transfer of biological information from pictures books to real animals. Child Development.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine

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