I’m all about finding ways to encourage children’s reading so I was intrigued to hear about an American research project that created a robot ‘book buddy’ to inspire kids to read.
Minnie the robot was programmed so that as the children read aloud it made relevant comments – like ‘Oh, wow, I’m really scared’ when they got to a scary bit in the book. Minnie also made eye contact and small movements to replicate a real-life reading buddy. At the end of the two-week study, the children showed a high level of motivation to read along with positive benefits such as having a good understanding of the books and remembering more about them.
The researchers reckoned Minnie was successful because it acted as a non-judgemental reading partner. Having a robot to read to was fun and allowed the children to enjoy the simple act of reading without worrying about being corrected by an adult if they missed a word out or mispronounced something.
It’s not the first research using non-human book buddies. In another American study, youngsters who read aloud to dogs saw their reading skills improve by over 10% over ten weeks. Just like Minnie, the four-legged friends provided a relaxed environment where kids could make mistakes and carry on uncorrected.
As parents, it’s easy to think the best way to help our kids become better readers is to put them right when they go wrong – but as these studies show when children are relaxed about reading they’re inspired to keep doing it. And the more they read the more they improve and the more their confidence grows.
Frankly I’m glad that my kids didn’t have to resort to reading to a robot when they were growing up, but it’s good to know that if you spot your child curled up on the sofa with a book and the family cat they’re going to be just fine.