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parent reading a book with child

Truly reading with a child involves thoughtful and active listening.

Reading with children builds social, mental skills more rapidly

K-State childhood development expert shares tips for improving learning

March 26, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Schools across the United States – including those in Kansas – have closed their doors in a good-sense approach to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

That doesn’t mean, however, that learning needs to stop.

In fact, Bradford Wiles, a K-State Research and Extension specialist in early childhood development, says children’s education happens right at home every time they read a book with their parents.

“Truly reading with a child involves thoughtful and active listening to assess and assist the child’s knowledge,’ Wiles said.

Wiles has written a publication that outlines six ways in which parents can build their child’s cognitive and social-emotional skills while reading with them:

1)    Ask questions in a mindful way that help you assess your child’s thinking, such as “Do you know what color that is?” or “Do you know what this is called?” Challenge your child to really think about what they are experiencing.

2)    Provide explanation or instruction to build on what children already know. Sometimes children need just a single piece of information to fully understand something they were not previously aware of.

3)    Model learning. When reading with a child, sound out words so that your children learn how to look at the print and determine how a word sounds. You can also mimic what you see – flap your arms to imitate how a bird flies.

4)    Provide feedback. Comment on your child’s performance by saying “You did a good job. You used to struggle with that” or “That’s better than you did the last time.” Provide the “because” to explain why the child did well.

5)    Help your child maintain focus. Young minds may wander quickly. When reading, offer choices such as a finishing a page before doing something else, stopping now, or skipping ahead to help your child stay engaged.

6)    Structure the activity. Explain to your child that you are going to read and think about the story together. This helps the child develop a shared focus in the story.

Wiles’ publication, Emergent Literacy: Helping Young Children’s Development Through Reading, is available free online through the K-State Research and Extension bookstore. (https://bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF3161.pdf)

K-State Research and Extension has compiled numerous publications and other information to help people take care of themselves and others during times of crisis. See the complete list of resources online.

Local K-State Research and Extension agents are still on the job during this time of closures and confinement. They, too, are practicing social distancing. Email is the best way to reach them, but call forwarding and voicemail allow for closed local offices to be reached by phone as well (some responses could be delayed). To find out how to reach your local agents, visit the K-State Research and Extension county and district directory.

Sidebar: The new screen time

Smartphones and tablets have moved the concept of ‘screen time’ beyond televisions.

Bradford Wiles, a child development specialist with K-State Research and Extension, notes that excessive media consumption – including the Internet – can lead to attention difficulties, school problems, sleeping and eating disorders, depression and weight problems in adults and children.

Wiles suggests that children under age 2 not have any screen time. For those between the ages of 6 and 17, there should be “screen-free” zones in the home. Wiles also suggests the family set rules for screen time spent individually and together.

Learn more about sensible approaches to limiting screen time in the publication, The New Screen Time: Beyond Television and into the Future, available through the K-State Research and Extension bookstore.

At a glance

Children still have numerous learning opportunities even while staying at home.


K-State Research and Extension COVID-19 Resource Page

Notable quote

“Truly reading with a child involves thoughtful and active listening to assess and assist the child’s knowledge.”

— Bradford Wiles, early childhood development specialist, K-State Research and Extension


Bradford Wiles

Written by

Pat Melgares

For more information: 

Emergent Literacy: Helping Young Children’s Development Through Reading


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.