November 5, 2006

Toddlers Learn Complex Actions from Picture-book Reading, Says New Research

Young children are able to perceive, interpret and understand pictures and their relations to real objects

WASHINGTON -- Parents who engage in the age-old tradition of picture-book reading are not only encouraging early reading development in their children but are also teaching their toddlers about the world around them, according to a study in the November issue of Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). This finding shows that interactions with life-like color pictures can aid in children's learning.

Parents of preschool children reported that they own dozens of children's picture books and spend approximately 40 minutes a day reading books to their small children. To determine the extent of a young child's ability to learn from a picture-book, psychologist Gabrielle Simcock, PhD, University of Queensland and co-author and psychologist Judy DeLoache, PhD, University of Virginia, tested if toddlers could imitate specific target actions on novel real-world objects on the basis of a picture-book interaction.

A total of 132 children from three different age groups (18 months, 24 months and 30 months) participated in two studies to determine if age influenced a toddler's ability to learn how to construct a simple rattle from a picture-book reading. In the first study, two groups of children ages 18, 24 and 30-months, were given one of two picture books. One contained six color photographs and the other contained colored pencil drawings that were reproductions of the photograph. At the end of the reading, the children were asked to construct a rattle using the items in front of them. The study revealed that many of the children were able to imitate the actions depicted and described in the book.

"This research shows that very young children can learn to perform novel actions with novel objects from a brief picture-book reading interaction. This common form of interaction that takes place very early in children's lives, may provide an important source of information to them about the world around them," said lead author, Gabrielle Simcock.

The iconicity (similarity between the actual object and the likeness presented in the book) of the pictures in the books had the most influence on the youngest children's reenactment. The 18-month toddlers were less able to follow the directions given in the book containing colored-pencil drawings then when they were when given directions from the books containing life-like color photographs. Due to the age-related difference in the reenactment with the two versions of the picture-book, Simcock and DeLoache selected a new group of 24 and 30-month old toddlers to study their reactions to black and white line drawings of the same picture-book.

The second study showed that the second group of toddlers performed relatively poorly when given the black and white images compared to the first group of toddlers who were given color photographs, proving that children are more influenced by iconic images. "The results expand our understanding of the development of pictorial competence in the second year of life and point to an interaction between symbolic and general representational capacities in the performance of very young children," said Simcock.

Article: "Get the picture? The Effects of Iconicity on Toddlers' Reenactment from Picture Books," Gabrielle Simcock, PhD, University of Queensland, and Judy DeLoache, PhD, University of Virginia; Developmental Psychology, Vol. 42 No.6

Dr. Simcock can be reached by telephone at +61-7-33469643 or by e-mail.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 145,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.