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Young children 'learn better from books with fewer illustrations'

04/07/2017 Kelly

Nursery school pupils generally perform better in terms of language learning when reading from books with fewer illustrations, according to new research.

The University of Sussex study, which aimed to assess how children learn and acquire language, offered evidence that too much visual information can become distracting and make it harder for young pupils to acquire new words from the stories they are reading.

In this study, storybooks were read to three-year-olds, with some books containing only one illustration per double-page spread, while others featured an illustration on each page. These pictures were designed to introduce the child to new objects that were named on the page.

Children who were read stories with only one illustration at a time were shown to have learned twice as many words as those reading books with multiple images, with the researchers suggesting that presenting too many pictures makes it harder for young readers to know where to look, meaning they are not following the text.

In a follow-up experiment, researchers used a simple hand gesture to guide the children to look at the correct illustration before the page was read to them, finding that this simple intervention was effective in helping children to learn words when they saw two illustrations across the page.

These findings support previous studies that indicate that adding too many visual elements to children's books - such as interactive flaps to lift, or anthropomorphic animal characters - can decrease their learning value.

Doctoral researcher and co-author Zoe Flack said: "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."

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