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Stories that explain why and how things happen can make children more excited about reading

Researchers say these stories tend to hold children’s interest longer

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Photo (c) Wavebreakmedia - Getty Images
Previous studies have cited the countless benefits kids gain from reading, but a new study suggests what kinds of stories tend to pique young ones’ interests. 

The researchers learned that when stories explain causality -- how and why events are unfolding -- children are more likely to stay engaged. This information is important because it could help guide parents and educators to keep their kids more interested in reading. 

“There has been a lot of research on children’s interest in causality, but these studies almost always take place in a research lab using highly contrived procedures and activities,” said researcher Margaret Shavlik. “We wanted to explore how this early interest in causal information might affect everyday activities with young children -- such as joint book reading.” 

Encouraging literacy

To better understand what kinds of stories most engage kids, the researchers had nearly 50 children between the ages of three and four years old participate in the study. The experiment was simple: volunteers read two different stories to the children and then asked them which one they preferred. 

“We read children two books: one rich with causal information, in this case, about why animals behave and look the way they do, and another one that was minimally causal, instead just describing animals’ features and behaviors,” said Shavlik. 

Overall, the kids favored the stories that gave more real-world information, as opposed to the ones that did less explaining. Though the excitement about both stories was the same, the researchers believed that the kids’ curiosity about how the world works ultimately won out when it was time to pick a favorite. 

These findings are positive in that they give insight into what could keep kids interested in reading. This information could be beneficial for both parents and teachers who are looking to engage young people in books and stories. 

“If children do indeed prefer storybooks with causal explanations, adults might seek out more causally rich books to read with children -- which might in turn increase the child’s motivation to read together, making it easier to foster literacy early,” Shavlik said. 

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