Can robots help children learn to read?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Direct attention from an adult caregiver plays an important role in long-term language development. Individualized adult attention helps children learn to read and remember what they read. We are interested in developing educational tools, like robotic reading companions, that can augment adult interactions by mimicking the caregiver behaviors that encourage and support children in building early literacy skills.

    Children (ages 2-8 years) will read a tablet-based interactive storybook, either alone, or with their caregiver, or with our robot. The robot is trained to mimic positive co-reading behaviors (e.g., asking comprehension questions, prompting exploration). The robot’s behaviors are based on both previous observations of caregivers reading with children and on advice from educational experts. We will be looking to see how children interact with the robot and how well they remember what they read.

    Remembering story concepts is a sign of high-quality reading. We predict that children will understand and remember concepts they learned when reading with the robotic learning companion (e.g., how colors mix to make other colors) better than when they read alone. We also predict that children’s understanding of these concepts will be best when they read with parents or other caregivers.

    This project will help us create a robot that complements caregiver interactions, acting as an additional resource for building young children’s language and literacy skills.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab. This research is supported by NSF Expeditions in Computing grant for Collaborative Research: Social Robots as Mechanisms for Language Instruction, Interaction, and Evaluation in Pre-School Children, & NSF Expeditions in Computing: Socially Assistive Robots.

        » Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Story Time

    Find the books near the boat in the Discovery Center. Ask your child to pick a story that you can read together. While you are reading, notice the questions your child asks and the conversations that you have. For example, the story might remind you and your child of other experiences s/he has had or other stories you have read.

    After you’ve finished reading the story, ask your child what s/he remembers about it. Which parts does your child remember the best? Do these relate to the parts you spent more time talking about while reading the story?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Learning to Read (To Other People)

    Think about your routine when you read to your child. Consider the times or places you may have set aside to read together and how you read together (e.g., how you sit, what voices you use for the different characters). Now, encourage your child to read, or pretend to read, a book to a younger sibling, to a favorite toy, or to you. Observe his or her reading behaviors.

    What has s/he picked up from observing the way that you read? Does s/he ask questions of the person (or toy) that is being read to? What conversations does your child have with the person or toy s/he is reading to?

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