Features in non-fiction children's books such as lift-the-flap may hinder toddlers from learning new words.

This is a finding by Dr Jeanne Shinskey, Royal Holloway, University of London were presented at the British Psychological Society's Developmental Psychology Section annual conference.

Dr Shinskey said: "Many educational picture books for toddlers often feature manipulatives like flaps or texture to encourage interaction, but do these actually help toddlers to learn new words? We wanted to test how a commercially-available book with or without flaps affected 2-year-olds' learning of a new word for an unfamiliar object."

A total of 31 toddlers aged 25 months were split in to two groups. Each group were asked to look through a book with a researcher that contained nine food objects. The books were exactly the same but one had lift-the-flaps and the other had these sealed.

Of the nine food objects viewed only one was unfamiliar to all toddlers, starfruit, as confirmed by their parents. The toddlers looked through the book with a researcher who labelled each target six times, using Latin for the starfruit (carambola).

Following this the researchers tested the toddlers to see if they would recognise the slice of starfruit by name (carambola) when shown both photos and realistic replicas. They were also shown other fruits that were similar in colour and size and whose names were also not very likely to be known at this age (e.g. slice of lime, slice of kiwi).

Analysis of the results showed that the young children who looked at the book without flaps were significantly more likely to correctly identify the starfruit slice.

Dr Shinskey said: "Books with these sort of features are very popular with parents who hope the interactive feature will aid learning and enjoyment of reading. However, if parents want their children to learn factual information about the world from books, it doesn't appear to help to make books more toy-like by adding 3D features. This seems to enhance their tendency to treat books as just another type of physical toy, rather than a tool for learning.

"As the findings suggest young children can find these features in a book distracting we would recommend having a range of books available so children learn to love reading as well as learning more about the world around them."

Research: Manipulative Features in Educational Picture Books Hinder Word Learning in Toddlers, Dr Jeanne Shinskey, The BPS Developmental Psychology Section annual conference, 14 September to 16 September 2016.