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Too many pictures?

The  more pictures in books for very young children the better, right?  Wrong -- if  a child is trying to learn to read.  Having fewer illustrations to see at one time in a pre-school child's storybook makes it easier for the child to learn to read, according to a study done at the University of Sussex and published in Infant and Child Development, 2017.

Researchers read storybooks to three-year-olds with one illustration at a time (the right-hand page was illustrated, the left-hand page was blank) or with illustrations on both pages, with pictures introducing the child to new objects that were named on the page.

They found that children who were read stories, and shown the pages, with only one illustration at a time learned twice as many words as children who were read stories while being shown two or more illustrations at a time.

Doctoral researcher and co-author Zoe Flack noted, “Our findings fit well with Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is. In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words.”

 Co-author Dr Jessica Horst commented, “Other studies have shown that adding ‘bells and whistles’ to storybooks like flaps to lift and anthropomorphic animals decreases learning. But this is the first study to examine how reducing the number of illustrations increases children’s word learning from storybooks.”

She went on to say, “This study also has important implications for the e-Book industry. Studies on the usefulness of teaching vocabulary from e-Books are mixed, but our study suggests one explanation is that many studies with e-Books are presenting only one illustration at a time.”

Reading to toddlers is one of the best ways to introduce them to the use and rhythm of language and sentence structure, and to help them learn to read for themselves, not to mention building a strong bond with the child.  Now we have a good indication that starting very young children with books that have only one picture per page is more helpful for learning to read the printed word than books with more than one image at a time.

In other words, if a young child yearns to be able to read, or if parents want to speed along a pre-schooler's ability to learn the printed word, keep it simple initially:  introduce one concept at a time, illustrated by one picture at a time.