The link below is to an article that looks at reading being good for the brain – no surprises with that.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at what reading does to the brain.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at how the brain learns to read.
Parents often receive books at pediatric checkups via programs like Reach Out and Read and hear from a variety of health professionals and educators that reading to their kids is critical for supporting development.
The pro-reading message is getting through to parents, who recognize that it’s an important habit. A summary report by Child Trends, for instance, suggests 55 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to every day in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 83 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to three or more times per week by a family member in 2012.
What this ever-present advice to read with infants doesn’t necessarily make clear, though, is that what’s on the pages may be just as important as the book-reading experience itself. Are all books created equal when it comes to early shared-book reading? Does it matter what you pick to read? And are the best books for babies different than the best books for toddlers?
In order to guide parents on how to create a high-quality book-reading experience for their infants, my psychology research lab has conducted a series of baby learning studies. One of our goals is to better understand the extent to which shared book reading is important for brain and behavioral development.
What’s on baby’s bookshelf
Researchers see clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. Shared book reading with young children is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development.
Shared book reading also likely enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship by encouraging reciprocal interactions – the back-and-forth dance between parents and infants. Certainly not least of all, it gives infants and parents a consistent daily time to cuddle.
Recent research has found that both the quality and quantity of shared book reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills and name writing ability. In other words, the more books parents read, and the more time they’d spent reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children.
This important finding is one of the first to measure the benefit of shared book reading starting early in infancy. But there’s still more to figure out about whether some books might naturally lead to higher-quality interactions and increased learning.
Babies and books in the lab
In our investigations, my colleagues and I followed infants across the second six months of life. We’ve found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later in childhood.
First, we brought six-month-old infants into our lab, where we could see how much attention they paid to story characters they’d never seen before. We used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure their brain responses. Infants wear a cap-like net of 128 sensors that let us record the electricity naturally emitted from the scalp as the brain works. We measured these neural responses while infants looked at and paid attention to pictures on a computer screen. These brain measurements can tell us about what infants know and whether they can tell the difference between the characters we show them.
We also tracked the infants’ gaze using eye-tracking technology to see what parts of the characters they focused on and how long they paid attention.
The data we collected at this first visit to our lab served as a baseline. We wanted to compare their initial measurements with future measurements we’d take, after we sent them home with storybooks featuring these same characters.
We divided up our volunteers into three groups. One group of parents read their infants storybooks that contained six individually named characters that they’d never seen before. Another group were given the same storybooks but instead of individually naming the characters, a generic and made-up label was used to refer to all the characters (such as “Hitchel”). Finally, we had a third comparison group of infants whose parents didn’t read them anything special for the study.
After three months passed, the families returned to our lab so we could again measure the infants’ attention to our storybook characters. It turned out that only those who received books with individually labeled characters showed enhanced attention compared to their earlier visit. And the brain activity of babies who learned individual labels also showed that they could distinguish between different individual characters. We didn’t see these effects for infants in the comparison group or for infants who received books with generic labels.
These findings suggest that very young infants are able to use labels to learn about the world around them and that shared book reading is an effective tool for supporting development in the first year of life.
Tailoring book picks for maximum effect
So what do our results from the lab mean for parents who want to maximize the benefits of storytime?
Not all books are created equal. The books that parents should read to six- and nine-month-olds will likely be different than those they read to two-year-olds, which will likely be different than those appropriate for four-year-olds who are getting ready to read on their own. In other words, to reap the benefits of shared book reading during infancy, we need to be reading our little ones the right books at the right time.
For infants, finding books that name different characters may lead to higher-quality shared book reading experiences and result in the learning and brain development benefits we find in our studies. All infants are unique, so parents should try to find books that interest their baby.
It’s possible that books that include named characters simply increase the amount of parent talking. We know that talking to babies is important for their development. So parents of infants: Add shared book reading to your daily routines and name the characters in the books you read. Talk to your babies early and often to guide them through their amazing new world – and let storytime help.
Right now, you are reading these words without much thought or conscious effort. In lightning-fast bursts, your eyes are darting from left to right across your screen, somehow making meaning from what would otherwise be a series of black squiggles.
Reading for you is not just easy – it’s automatic. Looking at a word and not reading it is almost impossible, because the cogs of written language processing are set in motion as soon as skilled readers see print.
And yet, as tempting as it is to think of reading as hard-wired into us, don’t be fooled. Learning to read is not easy. It’s not even natural.
The first examples of written language date back to about 5,000 years ago, which is a small fraction of the 60,000 years or more that humans have spent using spoken language.
This means our species hasn’t had enough time to evolve brain networks that predispose us to learn literacy. It is only through years of practice and instruction that we have forged those connections for ourselves.
How the brain learns to read
Brains are constantly reorganising themselves. Any time we learn a new skill, connections between neurons that allow us to perform that skill become stronger. This flexibility is heightened during childhood, which is why so much learning gets crammed in before adolescence.
As a child becomes literate, there is no “reading centre” that magically materialises in the brain. Instead, a network of connections develops to link existing areas that weren’t previously linked. Reading becomes a way of accessing language by sight, which means it builds on architecture that is already used for recognising visual patterns and understanding spoken language.
The journey of a word
When a skilled reader encounters a printed word, that information travels from their eyes to their occipital lobe (at the back of the brain), where it is processed like any other visual stimulus.
From there, it travels to the left fusiform gyrus, otherwise known as the brain’s “letterbox”. This is where the black squiggles are recognised as letters in a word. The letterbox is a special stopover on the word’s journey because it only develops as the result of learning to read. It doesn’t exist in very young children or illiterate adults, and it’s activated less in people with dyslexia, who have a biological difference in the way their brains process written text.
Words and letters are stored in the letterbox – not as individually memorised shapes or patterns, but as symbols. This is why a skilled reader can recognise a word quickly, regardless of font, cAsE, or typeface.
Information then travels from the letterbox to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, to work out word meaning and pronunciation. These same areas are activated when we hear a word, so they are specialised for language, rather than just reading and writing.
Because information can travel so quickly across the skilled reader’s synaptic highways, the entire journey takes less than half a second.
But what happens in the brain of a five-year-old child, whose highways are still under construction?
The growing brain
For young children, the process of getting from print to meaning is slow and effortful. This is partly because beginning readers have not yet built up a store of familiar words that they can recognise by sight, so they must instead “sound out” each letter or letter sequence.
Every time children practise decoding words, they forge new connections between the visual and spoken language areas of the brain, gradually adding new letters and words to the brain’s all-important letterbox.
Remember, when a practised reader recognises a word by sight, they process the letters in that word, rather than its shape.
Literacy instruction can therefore support children’s learning by highlighting the symbolic nature of letters – in other words, by drawing attention to the relationships between letters and speech sounds.
What might the future hold for literacy development?
As technology evolves, so too must our definition of what it means to be “literate”. Young brains now need to adapt not only to written language, but also to the fast-paced media through which written language is presented.
Only time will tell how this affects the development of that mysterious beige sponge between our ears.
The link below is to an article that looks at ebook reading and whether doing so is bad for the brain – hmmm, I doubt it.
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The last several months (and indeed the majority of the year – if not longer) has been marked by the haphazard and irregular nature of my posting to my Blogs and the updating of my websites. This is likely to continue for some time and for an indefinite period of time. Why? I have been battling depression (essentially), though I have no real understanding of why/how it has come about. A number of years ago I was involved in a car accident that nearly killed me and I suffered a brain injury as a result of the accident. I am as fully recovered as I am likely to be and it has not really left a great permanent impact on my life – though this depression may prove to have been its lasting legacy.
I have thought of closing down the Bogs and websites on a number of occasions – but have not really wanted to do so. I would like to return to them with the same enthusiasm that I once had, though I am obviously unsure when that will be. Also, closing down the sites would be like yielding to the mental illness and sliding further down the slippery slope, which is not something I want to do. So it’s six of one and half-dozen of the other as regards what to do.
So if you have been a regular reader/user of my sites I ask for your continuing patience and understanding – normal service is something I am aiming at returning to. I just don’t know when that can/will be.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at how reading changes the brain.
The link below is to an article that reports on how reading books impacts a child’s brain.
The link below is to an article that confirms the obvious – reading is good for the brain.