“I think we’ve learned that early reading is more than just a nice thing to do with kids. It really does have a very important role to play in building brain networks that will serve children long-term…”
Dr. John S. Hutton
Here’s a heartening fact: The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that literacy promotion should start at birth. What a call to action: Pediatricians caring for infants and toddlers should be advising parents about how important it is to read to even the youngest children. Bravo!
According to a New York Times story, “Turn the Page, Spur the Brain,” (August 18, 2015) — love that title! — there are “extensive links between growing up with books and reading aloud, and later language development and school success.” What’s more, two new breakthrough studies have identified the complex interactions that take place when we lift a small child into our lap and open a picture book.
One study looked at brain activity in 3-to 5-year-olds as they listened to simple stories. They found differences in brain activity based on how much the children had been read to at home. Kids who were read to often in homes with books had more activity in a region of the left brain associated with integrating sound and visual stimulation. While this area is known to be very active when older kids read to themselves, it also lights up when younger kids hear stories.
“When kids are hearing stories, they’re imagining in their mind’s eye,” noted Dr. John Hutton, the study’s lead author. This suggests that kids who are read to have more practice creating visual images will become more adept later at making images and stories out of words. Dr. Hutton speculated that a book may also spur creativity in a way that cartoons and screen-related visuals may not. As he put it, “When we show them a video of a story, do we short circuit that process a little? Are we taking that job away from them? They’re not having to imagine the story; it’s just being fed to them.”
In another set of findings, researchers discovered that the vocabulary in kids’ picture books is often richer than the speech they’re hearing on a daily basis. So kids who are read to hear more words and a greater variety of words, and get to exercise their brains by forming images from those words.
Aren’t books wonderful? They’re brain boosters, comforters, cuddle-in-a-lap snacks for the mind and heart. What video or iPad offers all this? Write on!