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Postdoctoral research associate publishes a children's book that enables greater exposure to complex grammar structures at a young age, supporting children's long-term reading and learning development.

Dr Julia Badger (nom de plume – Julia Tedd), a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Experimental Psychology has used her research to produce a children’s book aimed at improving young children’s grammar knowledge by exposing them to complex structures at a young age.

Julia works with the Oxford Group for Children’s Potential, whose focus is studying the reasons why children may underachieve academically relative to their potential. Her research within this group has shown that some children struggle to acquire more complex types of grammar, and that it is highly beneficial for learning and development that these grammar structures are understood at a young age.

Motivated to provide solutions, Julia wrote her first children’s book aimed at exposing children to more advanced grammar structures during their early development.

Read her interview below:

1. What first prompted you to write this book?

"Initially, I wrote this book for personal enjoyment. It’s based on real-life events with a rescue cat I gave a home to (who would wake me continuously through the night for seemingly no reason!). However, when writing it I became aware that the first part of the story was hypothetical (imagining good reasons why this cat might be awake at night), and that this would nicely suit using the conditional, for example ‘if he were an astronaut he would fly up to Mars, whoosh past planets and touch the stars’. I played around with the ideas and thought it would be a fun way to help expose children to these more advanced types of grammar."

2. What key research findings have you used to allow your book to support young children in learning grammar?

"I have worked with children for 15 years but in the last few years have become very interested in their language use. Our group’s work has shown that although most young children are able to reproduce the structure of conditional sentences, they do not in fact understand the meaning. For example, they can repeat the sentence ‘if he were an astronaut he would fly up to Mars…’ but when asked about what they had read, they would say that he is an astronaut. Comprehension develops with age but some children, and adults, never reach full comprehension. Our group has also shown links between the acquisition of the conditional and being able to understand scientific hypotheses."

"Children learn basic grammar implicitly so the idea behind the book is to subtly increase exposure to more advanced structures to aid acquisition."   

3. Why might children find it difficult to understand complex grammar?

"Most children have fully acquired the basic grammar of their native language by age 5. However, if a child is not exposed to certain types of more complex grammatical structures, such as the conditional, then there is no way that they can acquire or understand them. By their very name, they are more complex! The conditional, for example, is hypothetical / counterfactual. These more complex (and less often used) structures can be particularly difficult for children who do not hear this type of grammar at home, for example, those whose English is an additional language and only their first language is spoken at home. There are, of course, many other reasons why children may not hear these structures."  

4. How is this book helping?

"If children have not acquired more complex types of grammar then they will misinterpret or misunderstand sentences within which the structures are used. This can cause problems in everyday life, but will also make later schooling much more difficult. Children may end up underachieving at school relative to their potential.

This book provides children with a fun way of being exposed to the conditional. It is the first in a planned series of books which include more advanced grammar. Exposure provides the best chance of acquisition."

5. How can parents help children understand complex grammar when supporting their children’s development?

"Children’s brains are very smart – they will learn grammatical structures without explicit teaching, as long as the structures are presented to them. The greater the exposure to complex grammar structures, the more likely a child will be to acquire and understand them. Night-time Cat (and the books that will follow in the series) allows parents to sit and read a fun children’s book with their child but in doing so, will also be exposing their child to a slightly more advanced grammatical structure. No explicit teaching by parents is required! The hope is that this book will also reach schools, where children can have access to this book even if they do not have it at home."


The book is available online here: