Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bedtime reading

Parents have long been urged to read bedtime stories to their little ones to help them grow into voracious readers.

And now for the first time, scientists have found medical proof that the old advice really does work.

A study has found that reading to toddlers provides a 'meaningful, measurable' boost to their brain development. 

Professional bodies encourage parents to read to their children from birth to foster early learning and create connections in the brain that promote language development. But until now, direct evidence of the effects on the brain were never proven. 

Study author Dr John Hutton, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre in the US, said the pre-school years are 'critical' in brain development.

He added: 'We are excited to show, for the first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child's brain processes stories and may help predict reading success.

'Of particular importance are brain areas supporting mental imagery, helping the child 'see the story' beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination.' 

Dr Hutton and his colleagues studied 19 healthy children aged three to five, 37 per cent of whom were from low-income families.

Their parents answered questions on how often or not they read to their children, what variety of books they choose and how they chat and play with them.

The children then underwent MRI scans, which measured brain activity while they were listening to age-appropriate stories via headphones. 

The results showed that the children who were read to more often at home were advanced in areas of the brain supporting semantic processing – which is the ability to extract meaning from language. These areas are critical for speech and reading.

Dr Hutton said that even taking differences in household budget into account, the links between toddlers being read to at home and increased brain activity remained 'robust'. 

The results are due to be presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego.

The findings could encourage parents to tackle Britain's reading crisis – a study from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development last September found that each year, 130,000 UK children leave school with a sub-standard reading level.

It also showed just 25 per cent of Britons with a degree scored highly in a literacy test, compared with 37 per cent in Japan and Finland and 36 per cent in Holland.

I wonder what Australia's data looks like?

Read more: 

Can you finish the literary quote quiz from BuzzFeed.

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