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Three intriguing studies about reading aloud to kids

August 21, 2015

vocab brain read kids book imageRegular readers of our articles will know we love sharing great stories with children, not in the least because it’s fun! And there’s nothing like passing on our passion for reading.

Three recent studies have given us even more reasons to read aloud:

What happens to kids’ brains when they listen to a story?

There are several studies which show that kids benefit from exposure to books in all sorts of ways, including literacy, academic achievement and emotional development.

But now scientists at Cincinatti Children’s Hospital in the U.S. have studied the actual changes that occur in a child’s brain when they are read a story.

They used fMRI to scan the brains of nineteen children between the ages of 3 and 5 while they listened to a pre-recorded story and while they listened to background noise. When listening to a story, regions of the left part of the brain became active: the regions which help with mental imagery, understanding narrative and also memory.

The researchers also surveyed the children’s parents to find out how much they read to and communicated with their children. The brain activity in this region was higher among the kids who lived in more literacy-friendly homes.

Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus is the program director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’. She told CNN that:

“The more you read to your child the more you help the neurons in this region to
grow and connect in a way that will benefit the child in the future in reading.”

And she speculates that the effect will last as the children grow up:

“The brain develops rapidly from zero to six years of age, and the more exposure,
the more you enrich and nurture these brain networks that are related to social and academic ability,
the more the kid will gain the future.”

How picture books can help develop vocabulary (more than conversation does)

Young children learn language from the speech they hear and various studies have suggested that hearing a greater diversity of words is connected to better language outcomes.

The authors of a recent article in ‘Psychological Science’ surveyed 100 different children’s picture books and compared the words in them with normal, child-directed speech. (For this they used transcribed conversations between parents and children aged zero to five from the Child Language Data Exchange System.)

They found that overall there were 1.72 times as many unique words in picture books than in conversations.

And different picture books expose kids to different words:

“Unlike conversations, books are not limited by here-and-now constraints;
each book may be different from others in topic or content, opening new domains for
discovery and bringing new words into play.”

Family bedtime storyAnd the Number 1 reason kids like being read to

Of course, when kids are read a story, they’re not thinking about the benefits to their brains or vocabulary. They just enjoy being read to!

Publishing company Scholastic Inc’s ‘Kids and Family Reading Report’ surveyed children aged 6-17 who are, or had been, read to. Of those kids, 83% said they either loved it or liked it a lot.

Why? Popular reasons included it’s fun, and it’s relaxing before going to sleep.

But the number one reason was because it’s a special time with their parents!

For more on reading aloud:

Our article on what happens to kids’ brains when they listen to a story, how picture books can develop vocabulary, and the Number 1 reason kids enjoy being read to

Our article on how books help develop children’s empathy

Our article on truly great reading aloud and storytelling

Our article about whether dads read aloud differently, and why it’s important for dads to tell stories

Our list of seven great reasons to read with your kids


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