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Reading Aloud and 'Exergaming': A Roundup of Early-Years Research

Today we're taking a look at two recent studies involving young learners. One has to do with the frequency of parents reading aloud to their children, and the other examines the impact of exercise-related video games on toddlers.

Reading Aloud

A nationally representative survey done, included in the seventh edition of Scholastic's Kids & Family Reading Report: The Rise of Read-Aloud, finds that more parents are reading aloud to their young children. 

The survey involved 2,758 children ages 6-17 and their parents last year. It found that 43 percent of parents of children ages birth to 5 started reading aloud during a child's first three months. That's up from 30 percent in 2014. The number of parents reading aloud before their child's first birthday was 77 percent in 2018, an increase from 73 percent in 2014.

The survey found that 55 percent of children five and younger are being read to at home at least five days a week. Thirty seven percent are read to daily, and 52 percent are read to twice a day or more.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines encouraging parents to read to their children from birth.

"Kids who are read to at home have better transitions to formal school settings," said Molly Ness, associate professor of childhood education at Fordham University in New York City. "They have longer attention spans. There is some research showing that kids who are read to have better social skills. We've got decades of really clear research showing that it is so important to read aloud to kids every day at home."

Pam Allyn, the senior vice president for innovation and development at Scholastic Education, said in an email that she was thrilled by the survey results. 

"I think one reason this has happened is that this really became an issue a lot of us rallied together around: from the education space to the health space, from school districts, community centers, early-childhood agencies and children's book publishers to health-based professionals, including doctors and nurses, sharing with their parents the importance of reading aloud," wrote Allyn.

But the survey also shows that the portion of children being read to at home is lower for those 6 to 8. Parents are only reading to 45 percent of them, though that's an increase from 38 percent in 2016.

Only 21 percent of parents with children 14 and younger reported reading aloud to their children ages 9-11. That number decreased to 7 percent for children 12-14.

From Reading to Running

Could video games with an exercise component help preschoolers get more active during the school day?

A new, pilot study by researchers at the University of Minnesota suggests that may be the case.

It may seem that preschoolers are constantly in motion. But apparently, like other Americans, they're becoming more sedentary. The study describes the preschool years as "a crucial time to promote healthy lifestyle habits, which could assist in the prevention of obesity and chronic diseases as children age." It also notes that the prevalence of childhood obesity has grown from about 7 percent to 17 percent over the last 30 years partly due to a lack of sufficient physical activity.

"It is truly important for children, including young children, to be physically active on a daily basis," said Zan Gao, the study's principal investigator and the director of the Physical Activity Epidemiology Laboratory at the University of Minnesota.

Last year the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion issued federal guidelines on physical activity for children from 3-5 for the first time. The guidelines call for preschoolers to be active for three hours every day.

Gao and his team wanted to see if "exergaming," or playing exercise video games such as Wii Nickelodeon Fit or Xbox 360 Kinect Just Dance for Kids, would help preschool children be more active.

The team worked with 65 students from two elementary schools in low-income communities in the Midwest for eight weeks. Students were randomly selected to either participate in 20 minutes of exergaming or 20 minutes of recess five days a week.

Before and after the study the researchers determined the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each child got. In the end they analyzed data for 56 students and found that the students who had participated in exergaming had spent significantly more time engaged in physical activity.

Gao partly attributes that to children seeing exergaming as exciting and fun, which makes them more willing to exercise. He also stresses that he's not suggesting that exergaming replace traditional recess, but that it might be a useful supplement to it.

"We want to use the active screen time to replace the sedentary screen time," said Gao.

Christopher Hersl, the vice president of programs and professional development for SHAPE America, the society of health and physical educators, supports the introduction of exergaming to preschoolers.

"All physical activity is good physical activity," said Hersl. "If a game is motivational to kids and is something they enjoy participating in, then you're likely to see some benefits."

Gao says he plans to conduct more extensive studies on the impact of exergaming with larger sample sizes in the future.


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