By Ameneh Shahaeian, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Charles Sturt University

Reading to children is beneficial in many ways. Books offer a unique opportunity for children to become familiar with new vocabularies; the type of words not often used in day-to-day conversation. Books also provide a context for developing knowledge of abstract ideas for children. When an adult reads a book to a child, they often label pictures, talk about activities in the book, solve problems together and teach them new words and concepts.

Reading to very young children can have long-lasting benefits for their later school success, not only in literacy but also in mathematics. Adding to this, early shared reading particularly helps children from disadvantaged families defy limitations associated with their socio-economic status. So, if there is only one thing you have time to do with your children, it should be reading to and with them.

Read your way to the top

Parents have long been encouraged to read more to their children. There have been many initiatives, challenges, and programs aiming to increase individual reading time and shared reading time between parents and children. These include the Australian Reading Hour Campaign, the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Let’s Read, and others.




Read more:
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What’s still not clear is which specific skills improve while parents read to their children, and whether the benefit of shared reading is due to other things parents do that help their children thrive at school and beyond.

That is: is it really book reading that’s beneficial or is it because parents who read more to their children also provide a lot of other resources, and engage in a range of other activities with their children?

This was what we looked at in our study. We used data from a large scale nationwide study called the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). It has followed the development of 10,000 children and their families since 2004.

The sample we studied consists of 4,768 children from the cohort that was zero to one year old when the study commenced. During face-to-face interviews with trained LSAC interviewers, parents reported the frequency of them reading to their children at the age of two every week.

The LSAC then followed these children until they were four and eight years old. The good news is the majority of parents reported reading to their children at least three days a week. Specifically, 61.6% of the parents reported reading to their children every day and 21.1% of the parents read to their children between three to five days a week.




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Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys


Our study showed the benefits of shared reading with children during early childhood at two to three years old is long-lasting. The more frequently parents read to their children when they were two years old, the more likely their children had better knowledge of spoken words and early academic skills such as recognising and copying geometric shapes, and writing letters, words and numbers, two years later when children were four to five years old.

What’s more, frequent early shared reading was linked to better performance in NAPLAN reading, writing, spelling and grammar. More surprisingly it was also linked to mathematics even six years later when children were eight to nine years old in year three.

The most encouraging finding is that children from disadvantaged families benefited more from shared book reading. This suggests increasing the frequency of book reading is a viable way for disadvantaged families to support their children’s vocabulary knowledge and general academic achievement.

To address whether the benefits of shared reading are a product of other factors associated with parents and families, we controlled for the effect of a range of potential confounding factors. These include indicators of children’s intelligence, the number of children’s books at home, and home activities that parents engage with children other than reading. These would include drawing pictures or doing art activities with children, playing music together, playing with toys or games, and exercising together.

Even though we controlled for these other factors, the long-term importance of early shared reading still holds.

Suggestions for parents

Read more to your children and with your children. Whenever you get a chance, even if it’s only ten minutes, engage in shared reading activities.




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Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


We also suggest parents make a reading session interactive. For example, parents are encouraged to ask children questions, such as if they know the vocabulary and ask them to guess the story and what the story characters will do. Try to make the reading a learning session.

The ConversationFinally, not all books are created equal. Parents are encouraged to choose the most suitable books for their child’s age to reap the most benefits of early shared reading.

Ameneh Shahaeian, Research Fellow in Developmental and Educational Psychology, Australian Catholic University and Cen Wang, Research Fellow in Educational and Developmental Psychology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


by Elliot Berkman, University of Oregon and Jordan Miller-Ziegler, University of Oregon

“I love deadlines,” English author Douglas Adams once wrote. “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

We’ve all had the experience of wanting to get a project done but putting it off for later. Sometimes we wait because we just don’t care enough about the project, but other times we care a lot – and still end up doing something else. I, for one, end up cleaning my house when I have a lot of papers to grade, even though I know I need to grade them.

So why do we procrastinate? Are we built to operate this way at some times? Or is there something wrong with the way we’re approaching work?

These questions are central to my research on goal pursuit, which could offer some clues from neuroscience about why we procrastinate – and how to overcome this tendency.

To do, or not to do

It all starts with a simple choice between working now on a given project and doing anything else: working on a different project, doing something fun or doing nothing at all.

The decision to work on something is driven by how much we value accomplishing the project in that moment – what psychologists call its subjective value. And procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

For example, instead of cleaning my house, I might try to focus on why grading is personally important to me. Or I could think about how unpleasant cleaning can actually be – especially when sharing a house with a toddler.

It’s simple advice, but adhering to this strategy can be quite difficult, mainly because there are so many forces that diminish the value of working in the present.

The distant deadline

People are not entirely rational in the way they value things. For example, a dollar bill is worth exactly the same today as it is a week from now, but its subjective value – roughly how good it would feel to own a dollar – depends on other factors besides its face value, such as when we receive it.

The tendency for people to devalue money and other goods based on time is called delay discounting. For example, one study showed that, on average, receiving $100 three months from now is worth the same to people as receiving $83 right now. People would rather lose $17 than wait a few months to get a larger reward.

Other factors also influence subjective value, such as how much money someone has recently gained or lost. The key point is that there is not a perfect match between objective value and subjective value.

Delay discounting is a factor in procrastination because the completion of the project happens in the future. Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now.

Studies have repeatedly shown that the tendency to procrastinate closely follows economic models of delay discounting. Furthermore, people who characterize themselves as procrastinators show an exaggerated effect. They discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people.

One way to increase the value of completing a task is to make the finish line seem closer. For example, vividly imagining a future reward reduces delay discounting.

No work is ‘effortless’

Not only can completing a project be devalued because it happens in the future, but working on a project can also be unattractive due to the simple fact that work takes effort.

New research supports the idea that mental effort is intrinsically costly; for this reason, people generally choose to work on an easier task rather than a harder task. Furthermore, there are greater subjective costs for work that feels harder (though these costs can be offset by experience with the task at hand).

This leads to the interesting prediction that people would procrastinate more the harder they expect the work to be. That’s because the more effort a task requires, the more someone stands to gain by putting the same amount of effort into something else (a phenomenon economists call opportunity costs). Opportunity costs make working on something that seems hard feels like a loss.

Sure enough, a group of studies shows that people procrastinate more on unpleasant tasks. These results suggest that reducing the pain of working on a project, for example by breaking it down into more familiar and manageable pieces, would be an effective way to reduce procrastination.

Your work, your identity

When we write that procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things, it frames task completion as a product of motivation, rather than ability.

In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

It was for this reason that the writer Robert Hanks, in an essay for the London Review of Books, described procrastination as “a failure of appetites.”

The source of this “appetite” can be a bit tricky. But one could argue that, like our (real) appetite for food, it’s something that’s closely intertwined with our daily lives, our culture and our sense of who we are.

So how does one increase the subjective value of a project? A powerful way – one that my graduate students and I have written about in detail – is to connect the project to your self-concept. Our hypothesis is that projects seen as important to a person’s self-concept will hold more subjective value for that person.

It’s for this reason that Hanks also wrote that procrastination seems to stem from a failure to “identify sufficiently with your future self” – in other words, the self for whom the goal is most relevant.

Because people are motivated to maintain a positive self-concept, goals connected closely to one’s sense of self or identity take on much more value.

The ConversationConnecting the project to more immediate sources of value, such as life goals or core values, can fill the deficit in subjective value that underlies procrastination.

Elliot Berkman, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon and Jordan Miller-Ziegler, PhD Candidate in Psychology, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Do you sometimes feel you need a vacation from your vacation?

by Jamie Gruman, University of Guelph

Lots of people will take a vacation this summer, but for many of them, their vacations won’t be the relaxing, recuperative getaways they were hoping for.

Research shows that about 40 per cent of people return from their vacations and feel either no better, or even worse, than before they left.

This happens because many of us make mistakes that compromise how enjoyable and satisfying our vacations can be. Below are some simple recommendations that you can implement before, during and after your vacation that will help ensure that your time off this summer is pleasurable, gratifying and fully recharges your batteries.

Plan ahead

Vacations can be stressful. Minimize your stress by planning out key parts of your vacation before you leave.

Reserve a flight outside of rush hour so you don’t get stuck in traffic. Book your scuba diving adventure a few weeks in advance.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation.

Coordinate your decision-making and expectations with travel mates before you leave for vacation. Image: Pixabay

Before leaving make sure that you and your travel partners are clear on everyone’s vacation priorities and have a general agreement about how you’ll spend your time.

While you are away you don’t want to engage in potentially stressful negotiations about how to fill your days. Even a single negative incident on vacation, like an argument with a spouse, reduces how much your time away improves your health and well-being.

Put away the electronics

A necessary ingredient for recharging your batteries on vacation is mentally disengaging from work. It’s not enough to physically leave the office, you have to mentally leave the office.

This is called psychological detachment. If you’re on the beach constantly looking at your phone to see what’s happening back at work, you’re not psychologically detached. If you check your email three times a day, you’re not psychologically detached.

If you don’t psychologically detach you won’t replenish yourself much on your trip. Turn off the electronics and clear your mind. That said, if you get anxious about the mountain of emails that will be waiting for you when you get back to work, you will also have trouble chilling out. So, engage in email triage.

Once every three or four days, check your email and delete anything you can dispense with immediately. Then, reply quickly to anything that can be addressed with a simple, token response, and mark as unread anything that needs some thought and should be tackled when you get back. This cuts the huge mountain of emails down to a small pile, which will put your mind at ease and allow you to unwind.




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Enjoy yourself

Be a little bit selfish on vacation and ensure that you get to do what floats your boat. Enjoying yourself is a necessary ingredient in making sure your vacation is recuperative.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Make sure to do things you enjoy.

Vacations are supposed to refresh you and alleviate the burnout you suffer at work, and research shows that when you enjoy yourself and are satisfied with your vacation, your level of burnout drops significantly while away, but when you are not satisfied, your level of burnout barely changes.

Similarly, whether or not you enjoy your vacation strongly affects how refreshed you feel when it’s over. Take time for yourself and participate in activities you find pleasurable and satisfying. This is your vacation. You’ve earned it.

Staycations are OK

Not everyone has the disposable funds for travel vacations. But that’s OK. Staycations can be as effective as exotic getaways if they are done right.

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

Staycations can be great. But get out of your routine!

The main mistake people make during vacations at home is that they stay in their normal routine. They cook, they clean, they watch TV. In short, they don’t “vacate” their normal lives.

If you stay at home on your vacation, shake things up. Visit local tourist attractions. Eat different foods. Take day trips to neighbouring communities. Getting out of your normal routine can make a staycation feel as novel and recuperative as an excursion to a foreign land.




Read more:
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Come home a little early

We usually come back from our travel vacations on Sunday night so we can return to work Monday morning. We do this because we think that maximizing our vacation time means making the vacation last as long as possible.

But the goal of our vacations shouldn’t be to make them as long as possible but to make them as effective as possible. If you return home Sunday night you’re likely to run around trying to hurriedly unpack, water your plants, do laundry, pick up some groceries, check your phone messages and various other things you need to do to get back into the swing of things.

However, scrambling about is stressful and can quickly undo all the health and well-being gains you made while on vacation. Research shows that people who return from vacations a little bit early report being in a better mood for longer than those who return on a Sunday.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Arrive home with enough time to relax and organize before work on Monday morning.

Bookend your vacation with as little stress as possible. Come home early enough to leisurely get back into your normal routine, and ease back into work retaining your vacation benefits for as long as you can.

People often complain that they need a vacation from their vacation. When we return from our time off feeling just as depleted and tired as before we left it is usually because our vacations didn’t allow us to replenish our drained resources, satisfy our needs or adequately disengage from our normal routines.

The ConversationImplementing a few simple tactics before, during, and after your vacation can ensure that your time off this summer fully recharges your batteries and lets you return to work feeling healthy, happy and productive.

Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation.