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Brain scans prove that reading to kids is important for growth

readingIn 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement recommending parent-child home reading beginning at birth and continuing at least through kindergarten. In support of that recommendation, a new study involving brain scans of children found that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in brain areas supporting narrative comprehension and visual imagery, which are important for both language and reading.

Researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center studied MRI exams of 3-5 year old kids to find an association between home reading environment and activation of specific brain regions supporting emergent literacy.

“While listening to stories, children with greater home reading exposure showed significantly higher activation in areas within the left-sided, multimodal association cortex, which facilitates mental imagery and extraction of meaning (semantic processing),” said the authors led by John S. Hutton, MD, Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

They found that during the prekindergarten years, children are especially vulnerable to the stimulation achieved through the parent-child reading relationship including spoken language, toys, and books that promote such positive engagement.

“Many children arrive at school at a significant disadvantage in reading readiness,” said the authors, “and it is clear that those who are poor readers in first grade are unlikely to catch up with peers, at great societal cost.”

The scans were measured while children in one group listened through headphones to a series of stories of 9 or 10 sentences read by a female voice.  The control group heard stories in “non-speech tones” simulating human speech.

Researchers determined that “young children from more stimulating home reading environments more robustly engage neural circuitry supporting narrative comprehension.” Children in the study with higher scores “showed greater activation in the left parietal- temporal-occipital (PTO) association cortex, a ‘hub’ region facilitating semantic processing,” according to the authors.

From these readings, the scientists surmise that “children better able to recruit these circuits and apply mental imagery may better manage the transition from picture-to-text-based books as they advance in school,” said Hutton. “Conversely, those with less practice seeing and understanding, with consequently underdeveloped visual-semantic neural infrastructure, may be more likely to struggle.”

The moral of this story is simple and easy to achieve: Read to your kids.

-Alan Lyndon

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Photo by Ldorfman via Wikimedia Commons.

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