PARENTS have long known that bedtime stories not only help kids relax and fall asleep more easily, they also create an emotional bond between the storyteller and the listener.
What they may not know is there is another essential benefit of this traditional nighttime routine – boosting children's brain development.
According to researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) there's a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been read to regularly and kids who have not. Neural research conducted at NICHD found that images taken of the brains of children considered to be poor readers show little activity in the verbal-processing areas where as the brains of good readers show the opposite.
The good news is that the deficiencies do not have to be permanent. In fact, the most profound discovery NICHD researchers made was that after they spent one to two hours a day for eight weeks reading to the poor readers and performing other literacy exercises with them, their brain activity had changed to look like that of the good readers.
Now that is great news for parents and caregivers because this shows that when adults interact verbally with children, which includes reading to them, children's brains can be rewired to quicken their mastery of language. To enhance a child's language skills even more, parents should engage their children in interactive storytime. You can ask questions about what you are reading together, or ask your child to tell the story back to you. This helps develop her memory and language. You could read part of a sentence in the story that your child already knows, and ask him to fill in the missing words. Ask her opinion about the events happening in the story, what she thinks will happen next, or how she would end a story differently.
Another activity parents can do is to read and reread stories to their children. Reading a book repeatedly helps children develop their logic skills because the first time children hear a story, they do not catch everything but as they hear it again and again, they start to notice patterns and sequences, and begin to realize that if one page says, "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" the next page will tell brown bear's response: "I see a red bird looking at me." They will also learn to predict what will happen next based on what they heard earlier in the story. Later, these lessons in recognizing patterns, understanding sequences and predicting outcomes will help children in other areas, from math and science to music and writing.
And reading aloud should not stop once kids can read on their own. In fact, experts agree that kids are never too young or too old to be read to, and recommend that parents continue reading aloud even into their children’s teenage years. By choosing books that are slightly above your teen's reading level, you will continue to expose her to new words to add to her vocabulary and new worlds to add to her experience. So, pick up a book or two at the library or bookstore today, and enjoy some special time together. Happy Reading!
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 25 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com with your questions or comments.