For a long time now parents have been encouraged to read to children, starting at a young age even before they start school. Studies have shown that this can be extremely beneficial in helping them develop future reading skills. Using brain imaging, scientists have now shown that reading to children increases certain types of brain activity.
The researchers surveyed primary caregivers of children 3-5 years to learn how much they read to their children, including frequency and variety, how much they talked and played with their children, and whether they taught children specific skills such as counting and recognizing shapes. The researchers then measured the brain activity of the preschoolers while they listened to stories via headphones.
Researchers found that those children with a higher incidence of reading and other mental stimulation at home were more likely to experience the activation of specific brain areas related to language processing. These brain areas are important for oral language and future reading skills.
The study author John Hutton, a doctor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the US, said, “We are excited to show, for the first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child’s brain processes stories and may help predict reading success. Of particular importance are brain areas supporting mental imagery, helping the child ‘see the story’ beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination.”
In addition to the language processing areas, the areas of the brain that help mental imagery showed distinctively stronger amounts of activity as well. This implies that creating a mental picture plays a huge part in narrative comprehension and reading readiness, letting kids ‘see the story’. This skill is even more important while children move on from reading books with pictures and illustrations to those without them, where they need to visualize the narrative themselves.
The association between home reading and brain activity was not influenced by income, although low-income parents are more stressed to find time for their kids. However, keep in mind that it is not the quantity of time, but the quality that matters.
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