Compared to books with text, wordless books have been shown to increase literacy and vocabulary skills in toddlers with developmental disabilities, according to research from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University - ranked fifth in the nation in terms of external funding for research.
The research, led by professors Sandra Gillam, Ph.D, and Lisa Boyce, Ph.D, examined the type of language mothers used when their children made comments during shared reading of a wordless picture book and compared it to the language used when comments were made during the reading of a book with text.
The findings showed that more complex language and interaction were present between mother and child with the wordless book.
"We found that when creating a story or just responding to pictures, the parent used many words and complex sentence structures while engaging with their child.
"That level of engagement wasn't as present when reading books with text," said Gillam. "These results fall in line with the generally accepted belief that less structured activities, such as playing with toys or creating things with Play-Doh, elicit more productive language interactions between parent and child. These findings in no way diminish the importance of reading printed books, but incorporating interactions with wordless books is a way to build a more solid literacy foundation in children with developmental disabilities."
Previous research has shown that early literacy skills are predictive of later academic performance, and while interventionists have encouraged parents to engage in interactions that involve traditional books, this study indicates that mothers may be more likely to respond to their child's language attempts while sharing wordless books with their children than in interactions surrounding printed text.
"These findings are particularly important for speech pathologists who have long believed that parents of children with developmental disabilities must be taught how to respond to their children's attempts to communicate.
In actuality many parents naturally respond to their children when sharing wordless books with them. Parents may need assistance in recognizing the skills they are already using and be encouraged to transfer them from less structured activities to literacy-based activities," added Gillam.
"The research Sandi and Lisa are doing is really indicative of the mission of the education college at Utah State University, which is to help people lead richer, fuller lives through education," said Beth Foley, dean of the College of Education and Human Services.
"In order to best prepare our future educators at the college, we first have to have a solid understanding of how children best learn, both in the classroom and at home. This research is just one of many projects currently in progress at the college that will help us as we continue to develop the most productive and effective instructional strategies."