If you want to inculcate the habit of reading inyour preschooler, send their stuffed toys to the library for a sleepover. Winnie The Pooh or Olaf will search for interesting picture books overnight that will pique your child’s interest in reading.
Not us, but researchers from highly esteemed Japanese institutes such as Kanazawa University, Okayama University, Kyushu University, and Osaka Institute of Technology have found that “Stuffed Animals Sleepover Programs (SASP)” help increase the child’s interest in reading by encouraging them to read books their favorite plush toys picked during the night at library.
Stuffed Animal Sleepover Programs are programs that have been designed to enhance children’s interest in reading. In SASPs, the children take their stuffed toys, such as Chicky The Ducky, Snoopy The Dog, Pink Panther, or Bugs Bunny to the library for the night. The toys look up picture books that the children may want to read the next day. Meanwhile the library staff takes pictures of the toys exploring the library, selecting the books and reading them together.
The next day, the children collect their toys and are shown the photos of what they toys did during the sleepover at the library. They are also handed the books their toys chose for them.
These programs are run all over the world but until now there was no scientific evidence to show that they piqued the child’s interest in reading.
Japanese scientists decided to validate the widely-held belief that SASPs had a positive impact on child learning.
Dr. Yoshihiro Okazaki of Okayama University, the lead author of the study wrote, “We wanted to know if there really was an effect, and if so, how long it lasts. Surprisingly, not only did the children show interest in the picture books, but they also began to read to their stuffed animals. This means that a new behavior pattern emerged that the children had not exhibited before; we did not expect anything like this.”
The study was conducted in 42 preschoolers. The team of researchers organized a “book night party” where the children dropped their toys at the library for a sleepover. Meanwhile the researchers observed children’s behavior intermittently for over a month to determine the effect.
Before the sleepover, the children spent little or no time looking at books in the play area at preschool. However, immediately after sleepover, the children showed a remarkable interest in reading together with their stuffed toys.
Children were shown the photos of what their stuffed toys did for them overnight and it caught their fancy. They actually believed the stuffed toys really found the books. However, the effect was temporary and immediately wore off.
The researchers tested the sustainability of the program by randomly hiding the stuffed toys one day a month later and reminding the children of sleepover. The children were also shown the pictures to reminisce their memories. The children recalled the “overnight act of care” of their favorite toys and began reading books with their toys again.
Reading is important for your child’s learning and development of prosocial behavior. It helps the child develop learning and language as well as imagination skills. A parent reading to the child is called passive learning but when a child reads the book themselves, or reads them aloud to toys sitting nearby listening attentively, it is called active reading. Active reading is a more spontaneous form of learning. It is self-directed and brings the better reader out of the child right from the outset.
The stuffed animal sleepover programs first began in a library in Pennsylvania in 2007 that quickly spread across the globe owing to its powerful ability to stir the child’s fantasy.
Children are different from adults and function mainly on fantasies and exhibit high level of credulity. In early childhood, the distinction between reality and fantasy is not clear. Children begin to distinguish between fantasy and reality when they reach seven to eight years. Until that age, stuffed animal sleepover programs can serve as an extraordinary tool to arouse children mentally and inculcate a habit of reading.
The children coming to collect their toys the next day are convinced their toys moved around the library and are interested in hearing stories created by the child’s brain.