Your Child’s Brain on Books


CINCINNATI, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — National reading programs foster language development in young children by encouraging parents to read out loud to them. Now, researchers are using high-tech imaging to study what happens to children’s brains when they are actively engaged in reading. You could call it your child’s brain on books!

When You Give a Mouse a Cookie is one of four-year-old Ezra Gleiner’s favorite books.

“Every night we read to him and we make sure we read to him several times a day,” detailed Kelli Gleiner, Erza’s mother.

John Hutton, MD, is the long-time owner of Blue Manatee Children’s Bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s also a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Dr. Hutton told Ivanhoe, “Reading is more than just a nice thing to do with a child if there’s time. It really is a critical aspect of brain health.”

Dr. Hutton and his colleagues took a group of three to five year olds from a diverse socioeconomic background, and brought each in for an MRI. The children listened to stories through headphones while researchers measured brain activity.

Dr. Hutton said, “From that we asked the parents questions about the early reading environment of the child. How often are they read to? How many books do they have at home?”

Researchers found children with a strong early reading experience had increased activation in the portion of the brain that supports semantics, or word processing, and visual imagery.

“Interestingly, during the story task there were no pictures,” explained Dr. Hutton. “It was all audio. But we found the kids were still activating the visual parts of their brain that showed they were bringing the story to life in their mind’s eye.”

Dr. Hutton said this suggests the more early exposure kids have to reading, the better chance they have to become stronger readers later on. Carve out fifteen minutes a day for reading and encourage your child to ask questions about the story.

When you give a child a book and a few minutes of your time, researchers say you are fostering critical skills that will last a lifetime.

Dr. Hutton’s study was published in the journal Pediatrics. This study focused on the Reach Out and Read program, but there are a number of programs, such as Abriendo Puertas and Raising a Reader that help parents develop reading skills.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.