Make story time a regular routine in your home, and you’ll see your child’s brainpower grow. (Photo: Stocksy)
Want to jumpstart your preschoolers’ academic and social skills — while also having fun?
It’s simple: Read stories to them. A new study found that kids between the ages 3 and 5 who were read to by their parents had greater neuron activity on the left side of the brain, which helps develop literacy by controlling comprehension of words, language processing, and visual imagery.
While previous research has indicated that kids whose parents were committed to regular story time had more mature oral language skills, this is the first study to reveal (via real-time MRI scans) that listening to stories read by a mom or dad can actually change a child’s brain biologically.
“Reading to kids really changes their brains, even at a very young age,” Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, Ph.D., study coauthor and program director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tells Yahoo Parenting. “This helps prepare them to learn academically and also helps them socially when it comes to interacting with their peers.”
The study, which will be published in the August 10 issue of Pediatrics, looked at MRI scans of the brains of 19 children between the ages of 3 to 5 as they listened to prerecorded stories and a variety of sounds.
The research team then asked their parents how often they read aloud to their kids. They also questioned the moms and dads on how literate their home environment was — for example, if they had books and other reading material around the house, as well as stimulating toys and games.
The results showed that the more often the preschoolers were read to at home and the more literate their home environment was, the more active their brain activity was, especially in the part of the brain where words are matched to meanings and combined with visual imagery.
“It’s too early to tell if that means kids who are read to at home will have higher IQs, but we can say that being read to engages parts of the brain that contribute to reading comprehension down the road,” says Horowitz-Kraus.
The study doesn’t state exactly how often parents should read to their kids. But the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents of preschoolers to set aside at least a few minutes per day for story time.
“In the study, we looked at kids who were read narrative stories, but I assume that the same effect may be seen in different types of narratives, as long as they are engaging and stimulating,” says Horowitz-Kraus.
“Reading to your child is fun, important, and a way to bond,” she says. “There’s no more secure environment for a kid than to be sitting close and reading with a parent. This new research provides evidence that it also helps a child’s developing brain. Everybody wins.”