Early on in my career, I attended a teacher’s workshop that brought to light research and statistics about the advantages pre-schoolers gain by being read to as toddlers. Long-term studies showed a strong correlation between reading to your child early, and performance in the area of literacy in later years. I also learned how significantly different these outcomes were for children whose parents had seldom exposed them to literature based activities while in their toddler years. Doing so may very well put a child at an academic advantage later on.
Back then, the research presented was in its early stages, but impressive nonetheless. Today, thanks to advances in the field of neuroplasticity and MRI imaging, scientists can take the same study to new heights, and are able to present conclusive evidence to drive the point home one step further.
Last April, a study spearheaded by Dr. John Hutton of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, revealed new evidence which theorizes that reading to a child in the early years benefits brain development, which, in turn, sets the stage for early literacy skills acquisition. This study, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 19 three to five-year-olds while they listened to stories being read to them, revealed a significant amount of activity in the cerebral left hemisphere, the part of the brain primarily responsible for reading and language development. The reading process, scientists concluded, creates images in the listener’s mind, which stimulates brain activity and sparks the critical development of neural pathways.
As teachers, it is quite easy to pick out students who were read to early on. Often, it is these students for whom reading skills acquisition comes easily. They look forward to going to the library, and love to read to an audience and/or be read to. We love to see this, as it makes our jobs that much easier.
Having a picture book read aloud is a multi- sensory experience and a tool that assists in vocabulary-building, and reinforces pronunciation and expression, in the case of speech and language challenges. Many books designed for toddlers have textures to explore or tabs to lift to reveal surprises, and they all have pages to turn. This encourages natural curiosity and provides fun practice for fine motor skills and an avenue for working through particular sensitivities.
Reading together encourages children on the autism spectrum to engage in an activity which provides relatable characters and exposure to sequencing. Unlike television or movie-watching, sharing a book with a loving parent is an interactive experience, which does not come with a finite time frame. Little ones’ attention spans can be gradually extended through reading together.
The best gift we can give our children, our presence, is required in order to read with them. And, in turn, we are witnesses to their pleasure and their wonder when they discover something new.
For all new parents out there, Dr. J. Richard Gentry, author of “Raising Confident Readers,” outlines the top ten reasons to read to your youngster. It may be the best investment you’ll ever make in your child’s future academic success!
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Laura Caprini is a teacher and co-founder of the Hudson Literacy Clinic with teacher Sandra Weir.