This Is Your Child’s Brain On Reading

Written by Gabrielle Murray

When it comes to putting your child on the path to achievement, compassion, and happiness, the data is in: children flourish when books and reading are valued at home.

Picture books help prime an infant’s brain for lifelong success.

Researchers at Columbia University found that by Kindergarten, children with broader vocabularies are already ahead of their peers behaviorally, academically, and socially, as indicated by reading and math achievement, superior self-regulation, and fewer anxiety-related issues.

The best way to grow a child’s vocabulary? Early and frequent reading. According to a study from Emory University, reading has measurable impacts for readers of all ages. When we read, the area associated with language reception is heightened. Not only does this area — the left temporal cortex — light up while we’re reading, but it’s shown to stay heightened for several days after. This augmented state supports quicker processing and reaction time across the board for adults and children alike.

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have found that, specifically in children, reading actually rewires the brain through the creation of white matter, the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter where information is processed. As a direct result, children’s brains forge more numerous and substantial neural pathways leading to improved concentration, memory, reading and aural skills, and more. To put it another way: success in reading begets success in just about every other pursuit.

A study released by the Pediatric Academic Societies in 2018 discusses the “Goldilocks Zone” of stimuli. Like the golden-haired interloper looking for perfection in the three bears’ cabin, a child’s brain is looking for the area of stimuli that’s “just right” for their burgeoning brain function — engaging, but not overwhelming. Picture books fall into the category that suits young children best, scaffolding neural growth to organize information and create faster connections for the rest of their lives.

Jessica Ewing, CEO of the children’s book club Literati who previously studied cognitive science at Stanford, was struck by this research. To help parents get offline and into quality reading time with their child, she and Kelly Carroll launched Literati together in 2017.

“With the data clearly showing that children benefit from reading early and often,” says Ewing, “it became imperative that we find a way to support families raising young readers.”

The number of books at home directly correlates to excellence in school, and beyond.

According to the 2018 study, a child needs to hear a new word 4-12 times before it’s added to their vocabulary, making home libraries and repeated readings an invaluable asset. Bolstered by this data, new services have sprung up specifically to help parents create a home environment that supports consistent reading habits. Literati draws on the expertise of early childhood professionals to choose books that build on the skills they have and help them flourish.

The presence of books in the home has a greater influence on a child’s level of education than does the parents income, nationality, or level of education. A 20-year international study led by Mariah Evans, a sociologist from the University of Nevada-Reno, shows how investing in books can make all the difference. “The relationship is strong, clear, and statistically significant in every one of the 42 nations [we studied],” says Evans.

According to a team of researchers at Australian National University, having as few as 20 books at home has been shown to impact a child’s literacy for the better — but the real magic happens when the home library includes between 80 – 350 books.

Read broadly to blossom socially and emotionally.

In addition to the academic benefits of reading, studies reveal clear social and emotional gains in children who read at home. A phenomenon called grounded cognition shows the impact of how what we read is processed in the brain. When we read about a character sprinting, for example, the same neurons associated with the physical act of running are activated. It’s true with reading about a character’s emotional experiences, too.

Cognitive scientist Keith Oatley says books are life simulators: They allow us to see ourselves in someone else, experiencing their emotions along with them in a sort of situational test-drive. Using books as vehicles, parents can seamlessly encourage curiosity and compassion for others, values that will serve children for the rest of their lives. In short: Reading makes us better people.

For best results, bring reading home.

While any time you spend reading with your child is valuable, having books accessible at home has been recognized as key to a child’s explosive literacy and speech.

“I wasn’t one of those parents who read to my child in utero,” says Literati co-founder Kelly Carroll. Her son, Finn, is now three years old. “I struggled to find incredible books we could return to over and over again. To be honest, we weren’t regularly reading until my son became the very first Literati subscriber.” Fast forward two years, and “Finn’s love of his library, of his treasured books, is astounding… as is his vocabulary.”

“Seeing my son ache to read together is unprecedented in that I did not have that experience as a child. The vibrancy of his imagination literally stops me in my tracks at times, which I attribute wholeheartedly to his inner life being so steeped in storytelling,” says Carroll. “I’m so happy to have this base covered for my own child. I’ll never have to worry about whether my son loves reading.”

Given that Literati is the fastest-growing children’s book club in the US, it’s thrilling to imagine countless children reaping the same benefits.

What is Literati? Only the greatest children’s book club on Earth. Each month, Literati sends 5 obsessively researched, age-appropriate books in a magical package personalized to your child. Explore the books for a week and keep only the ones you love. The monthly membership is $9.95, and Literati matches or beats the Amazon list price on books kept. Your first month membership fee is on us: Sign up for a risk-free trial today.

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