February 27, 2020

Oh, the places you’ll go – if you shut down the computer and open up a book instead!

david-purpura David Purpura, an associate professor of human development and family studies in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences (Purdue University photo) Download image

In honor of Dr. Seuss, tips on how to encourage reading with your kids in a screen-filled world

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Parents and teachers will encourage kids to put aside their screens and pick up a book – including those by famed children’s author Dr. Seuss – as part of Read Across America Day during his birthday celebration on March 2.

In addition to whimsy, Seuss’ books are known for their contributions to math and language development. The simple counting, sound imitation and rhyming patterns are important in helping children grow and develop skills for the future, say two Purdue University experts.

Jennifer Dobbs-Oates is a clinical associate professor of human development and family studies, and  David Purpura is an associate professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Sciences who specializes in preschool mathematics and literacy and environments. They offer the following tips on the importance of reading to children:

dobbs-oates Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, a clinical associate professor of human development and family studies in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences (Purdue University photo) Download image


  • Pick books that have playful language, using rhymes and repetition. Kids love books that are repetitive, encourage singing or sounds, and encourage response. “Read what your kid wants to read. Follow their lead of what they are interested in having you read to them,” Dobbs-Oates says.
  • Wordless books open up imaginations. Wordless books are popular with younger children. “They can be very valuable as you the reader or the child can make up stories, describing what you see in the book’s artwork,” she says.
  • Read together. Reading books in a one-on-one setting can improve motivation for children to read more on their own. Attending group readings at libraries, schools or day care can be community-building and relationship-building activities, Dobbs-Oates says.
  • Look for places in the book to encourage interaction. “Ask questions about the story and connect it to your child’s life. This will make the books more interactive and help build conversational language skills. Other activities, including having the children play the part of a character, can encourage play and a deeper understanding of the language and concepts in the story,” Purpura says. “They are having fun and learning at the same time. This sets a strong foundation for the future.”
  • Don’t worry about the 30 million word gap: Just read and engage with your child. Purpura recently wrote an analysis calling for the use of more precise methods of assessing children’s language environments and development instead of relying on what is known as the 30 million word gap, as well as addressing issues and access to resources. Purpura points out that in addressing the 30 million word gap, children would need to hear an additional 24 words every minute for 14 hours a day for the first four years or read 96 books per day just to make up the gap.
children-reading Parents, teachers and caregivers are encouraged to read to children. Two Purdue University faculty members provide tips on how to interact with children during reading. (Photo: Picsea/Unsplash) Download image

“The number itself doesn’t matter. What parents do with their children does matter. We need to look at the barriers that prevent parents from doing more – those barriers matter,” Purpura says.

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Writer: Matthew Oates, 765-496-2571, oatesw@purdue.edu, @mo_oates

Sources: David Purpura, 765-494-2947, purpura@purdue.edu, @davidjpurpura

Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, 765-494-2931, jendo@purdue.edu, @JenDobbsOates 

Note to Journalists: Stock art and photographs of the researchers are available for journalists to use via a Google Drive at https://purdue.university/2TkUJ7J.

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