An afternoon nap can help children learn new words

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Reading to toddlers before a nap could significantly enhance their learning, according to new research by psychologists at Sussex University.

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Nap time is important for boosting children's vocabulary, researchers say

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Developmental Psychology, suggests that three-year-olds who take a nap after having stories read to them perform better in word-learning tasks than those who stay awake.

As part of the research three-year-old nursery children were read either the same story three times, or three different stories, but were exposed to the same number of unfamiliar words. Half of them had an afternoon nap after the stories and half stayed awake.

The 48 British children that took part were tested individually in their normal nursery or pre-school settings.

When tested two- and- a-half hours, 24 hours and a week after hearing the stories, the children who had slept immediately afterwards performed better than those who had not.

Of the children who napped after reading, those who heard the same story repeated learned more words than those who heard different stories.

Previous studies by co-author of the research, Dr Jessica Horst, had already suggested that being read the same story more than once was more beneficial to learning new words than reading different ones. But the new study showed that sleep can provide an additional advantage.

Children who heard different stories but then napped performed just as well in tests as children who had heard the same story repeatedly but did not nap.

Children who heard different stories and did not nap performed worst in the tests.

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.’

She added, ‘Many preschool children take an afternoon nap, yet classroom naps are increasingly being curtailed and replaced due to curriculum demands. 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.’