Naptime is important to infants in sustaining new learning. New research suggests that naps could have the same beneficial role in language learning of preschool children.
The study, carried out at the University of Arizona, was published in the journal Child Development, and researched verb learning of three-year-old children. The paper indicates that children who took naps scored better in understanding the words 24 hours later, compared to their counterparts who skipped naptime.
Napping, Helpful In Language Learning
According to the findings of the current study, parents should reconsider when allowing their preschool children to skip naps, although regular naptimes tend to decline among preschoolers compared to infants.
As part of the research, 39 children aged three were divided into two separate groups: one group consisted of children (called habitual nappers) who nap for at least four days every week and the other (called non-habitual nappers) who nap three or fewer days every week. The children had a normal development and were randomly assigned to either nap or not for at least a half an hour after learning a new verb.
The children were taught two fictional verbs, each of which was presented with a video where actors would depict the supposed meaning of the words. One day after this learning exercise, both groups were shown videos of two other actors doing the same actions, each associated to one of the two made-up verbs. The children were then asked to assign a verb to an actor, as they had been taught one day before.
The group who did not nap had remained awake for at least five hours after the verb learning exercise. Both habitual and non-habitual nappers were part of this group.
As a result of this experiment, the kids who took a nap within an hour of learning the words performed better in associating the videos with the correct made-up verb, compared to their counterparts who skipped napping.
The reason why researchers used different actors in each of the videos is that the completion of the learning process involves a part called generalization. Generalization allows the children to recognize the new verbs even when the actors performing them or the contexts have changed. This way, the researchers made sure that it was the verbs that the children recognized and not another contextual element.
"We're interested in generalization because that's the target for word learning. You have to be able to generalize words to be able to use them productively in language," noted Michelle Sandoval, study author and UA alumna.
Parents, Read Bedtime Stories To Your Kids!
Additional research has shown that children whose parents read to them have stronger language-processing areas of the brain. The study pointed out that reading to children causes an increased level of activity in the developing brain, associated with verbal, reading and imaging skills, which could give the kids an early cognitive advantage.
"We are excited to show, for the first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child's brain processes stories and may help predict reading success," noted Dr. John Hutton of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, lead author of that research.