3 Ways Reading Impacts A Child’s Brain
As children develop, learning to recognize the letters of the alphabet is one of the skills we teach them early on. While most children don’t start learning how to actually read until they approach kindergarten, it’s typical for television shows or preschools to teach children how to memorize the alphabet, recognize the individual letters, and even how to write them down.
These are all precursors to teaching them how to read, but one of the most important things we can do to help prepare our children to read is by reading stories to them every day. In fact, listening to stories has a significant impact on early brain development.
1- Aides in Myelination Development
Although a child’s brain begins growing and developing in the fetus, it continues developing during the early childhood years. In fact, it is what they learn during these early years that is the most impactful on future development throughout the rest of their childhood.
A study conducted on children between the ages of three to five showed that those who had strong home literacy environments developed better organization of myelination in the white matter tracts in the brain. This organization and increased presence of myelination supports developing language and literacy skills. Children who had interactive reading sessions with their parents and were read to often developed a stronger brain infrastructure for language. In contrast, a study conducted in tandem on-screen exposure showed that the amount and organization of myelination were significantly lower, particularly in the areas associated with language and literacy.
2- Stimulates Mental Imagery
In another study, children listened to age-appropriate stories through headphones with no visual stimulation while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans that measured their brain activity. Researchers were interested in finding out if there was a difference in their overall comprehension and how this activates the areas of the brain that encompass language.
The results showed that children who had consistent exposure to at-home reading showed strong activity in the areas of the brain relating to semantic processing. This is the area that not only processes the meaning of words but is key in extracting mental imagery drawn from the story. In other words, the more children are read to, the clearer they are able to see the story in their mind. This skill is crucial as it allows a child to understand the narration of a story as they move from picture books to non-picture books.
3- Develops Semantic Memory
Although it can become quite repetitive to read the same story time and time again, repetition of a beloved book can be quite beneficial to a child. Children, particularly young toddlers, take longer to learn and remember new information. It requires repetition and a lot of it. In fact, a study conducted by the Center for Early Literacy Learning concluded that the best approach for optimal comprehension was to focus on reading only one or two books at a time and reread them every day. For maximum comprehension, reading one book four times a day for several days is recommended.
We store the words we learn in the hippocampus, which is what gives us the ability to recall what the word cat means. However, in order to learn the word cat, a toddler needs to hear it around 80 times. More than simply hearing the word, studies show that children who learn their vocabulary from repetitive reading have a stronger grasp on language due to the context that hearing words in a structured story provides.
Additionally, children who are read to frequently and repetitively have a far more extensive vocabulary than children who learn words from television or other verbal speech. This is because books, even children’s books, have more uncommon words than we use in everyday speech and even in television programming––as much as fifty percent more, in fact.
Not only does reading with our children help create a healthy bond, but we are also helping their brain development. The fact is, developing a lifelong love of reading and learning requires adult help. Developing a home literacy environment where books are read out loud several times a day and children are allowed to interactively participate is vital in developing the areas of the brain necessary for future language and literacy skills. In other words, reading to our children is setting them up for a lifetime of cognitive success.