Not only do small children love being read to but a new study confirms that it is actually good for them.
Brain scans taken of 19 preschoolers whose parents regularly read to them showed heightened activity in important areas of the brain. Experts have long theorized that reading to young children on a consistent basis has a positive impact on their brain development; researchers say this study provides hard evidence that it does.
The study’s leader Dr. John Hutton, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,
and his team used functional MRI scans to measure real-time brain activity in 19 children, aged 3 to 5 years, as they listened to stories and to sounds other than speech.
Parents were interviewed about "cognitive stimulation" at home, including how often they read to their children. Based on their responses, the number ranged from two nights a week to every night.
Overall, Hutton's team found, the more often children had story time at home, the more brain activity they showed while listening to stories in the research lab.
The impact was largely seen in the area of the brain that is used to obtain meaning from words. There was "particularly robust" activity, the researchers said, in areas where mental images are formed from what is heard.
"When children listen to stories, they have to put it all together in their mind's eye," Hutton explained.
Even though children's books have pictures, he added, that's different from watching all the action play out on a TV or computer screen.
When a child is listening to a story being read to them, they are engaging a different part of the brain than when they are passively sitting in front of a screen with images.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to read to their children every day, starting at birth. That pre-kindergarten time is a critical time for brain development, Hutton said. Other research has found that children with poor reading skills in first grade usually do not "catch up" with their peers.
Hutton believes that a traditional story time provides a critical "back-and-forth" between parents and children.
"It's not just a nice thing to do with your child," he said. "It's important to their cognitive, social and emotional development."
Reading to your child can help him or her build a lifelong relationship with the written word. That skill will help them be able to navigate more easily in school, later on in business and can bring hours of personal pleasure through the stories of gifted writers.