Afternoon naps can boost reading
By Sue Learner
Reading to toddlers before their nap significantly improves their learning, according to a new study. Research carried out by psychologists at the University of Sussex found that three-year-olds who took a nap after having stories read to them performed better in word-learning tasks than those who did not.
A connection between sleep and learning has already been identified as beneficial for adults and older children, but this is the first time, it has been proven to have an impact on younger children. The study by Dr Jessica Horst and PhD candidate Sophie Williams involved 48 children, half of whom took afternoon naps, and half of whom did not. They were read either the same story, or three different stories, but were exposed to the same number of unfamiliar words. When tested two and a half hours later, 24 hours later and a week later, those children who had been read the same story before their nap performed significantly better than those who had not had a sleep.
Dr Horst said: ‘Overall, all of the children in the study did very well – reading is always good, at any age and any time. But, children who were learning something particularly difficult (new words from several stories) especially benefited from hearing the stories right before sleeping. In fact, these children ended up learning the words as well as the children who had heard the same stories again and again, which we knew would be easier.’
Significantly, those children who had been read three different stories before their sleep performed 33 per cent better than those who had stayed awake after hearing those stories. On subsequent tests, the researchers found that the group who did not nap never caught up with their peers in word recall.
Previous studies by Dr Horst have shown that being read the same story rather than different stories was more beneficial to learning new words. But the new study shows that sleep can have an additional significant advantage, especially when the children are exposed to different stories.
Dr Horst added that many studies have shown young children are now sleeping less than ever before and consistently less than recommended guidelines.
‘Many pre-school children take an afternoon nap, yet naps are increasingly being curtailed and replaced due to curriculum demands,’ she added. ‘Given the growing body of evidence that sleep consolidation has a significant effect on children’s learning, such policies may be doing our children a huge disservice. In fact, findings like those from the current study indicate we should be encouraging young children to nap and should take advantage of the period right before they nap for instruction in key academic areas such as word learning and arithmetic.’
Survey: have your say and help set the agenda
The Pre-school Learning Alliance has launched a new comprehensive survey on early years policy, giving practitioners the opportunity to share their views on the state of the early years sector. The Early years agenda survey covers several key areas including funding, qualifications, schools, childminder agencies and Ofsted. The results will underpin the Alliance’s upcoming Early years manifesto
6 Practical Pre-School April 2014
for government which aims to set out a realistic, sustainable plan of action for the future of the sector, grounded in three key principles:
The needs of the child must always be at the centre of all decision-making.
Policy should be based on an extensive body of evidence, not the personal views of government ministers (or other policydrivers, such as Ofsted).
Consulting with the early years sector should be the first step of policy development, not the last.
Chief executive of the Alliance Neil Leitch said: ‘The political focus on childcare and early years continues to intensify… We believe it’s time that practitioners – professionals with the knowledge, experience and passion for early years – are placed at the centre of the early years debate. The more responses we receive, the more powerful our message to government, so we are urging as many practitioners as possible to take part.’
The survey is available at www.pre-school.org.uk/whats-new/ early-years-survey.