Reading To Young Children May Boost Brain Activity, Reading Skills

Reading to young children could help their language development and eventually, turn them into successful readers, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that reading to young children is in fact associated with differences in brain activity supporting early reading skills. 

"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."

Professional organizations and advocacy groups have encouraged parents to read to their children from birth to foster early learning and create connections in the brain that promote language development.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from 19 healthy preschoolers ages 3 to 5 years old, 37 percent of whom were from low-income households. Each child's primary caregiver completed a questionnaire designed to measure cognitive stimulation in the home.

The children then underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measured brain activity while they were listening to age-appropriate stories via headphones. The children were awake and non-sedated during fMRI, and there was no visual stimulus. Researchers were interested in whether there would be differences in brain activation supporting comprehension of the stories in areas known to be involved with language. 

They found that greater home reading exposure was associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting "semantic processing," or the extraction of meaning from language. These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.

Brain areas supporting mental imagery showed particularly strong activation, suggesting that visualization plays a key role in narrative comprehension and reading readiness. This allows children to "see" the story.

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