I still love picture books even though I haven’t taught young children for a long time. I have a couple of nieces now though, and I love to send them picture books and simple read aloud books with lots of illustrations. You may think that your toddler simply enjoys looking that the pictures in their books, but did you know that pictures books actually teach your toddler complex actions?

A study conducted in 2006 tested a toddler’s ability to learn from life-like picture books by having a selection of toddlers of different ages “read” one of two picture books and then construct a toy that was pictured in the illustrations.

The Picture Books Study
The study involved 132 children, and the group was split into thirds by age. The ages represented were 18 months, 24 months, and 30 months. This group was then split in half again. The first group was given a picture book with colored life-like pictures that depicted a rattle toy being constructed. The second group received the same book, but it was illustrated with colored pencil.

After the children had a chance to read the book, they were then given materials and asked if they could construct a rattle like they saw in the book. It was found that the children who had access to the life-like pictures were able to produce the toy more successfully and more consistently than the children in the second group who looked at colored pencil drawings.

In both groups, the toddlers aged 18 months had a harder time constructing the toy, and this was deemed to be more of an age issue.

A New Study
After the first study, a new group of children was selected for a second study. This group consisted of 24 30 month old children. The group was split in two and the first group was given the same picture book with life-like colored pictures, and the second group was given a book with black and white photos.

It was found that the children with the black and white photos performed poorly when compared to the group of toddlers who had access to the colored photos.  Dr. Psychologist Gabrielle Simcock from the University of Queensland and co-author of the study commented that "the results expand our understanding of the development of pictorial competence in the second year of life and point to an interaction between symbolic and general representational capacities in the performance of very young children.”

"Get the picture? The Effects of Iconicity on Toddlers' Reenactment from Picture Books," Gabrielle Simcock, PhD, University of Queensland, and Judy DeLoache, PhD, University of Virginia; Developmental Psychology, Vol. 42 No.6