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What Happens in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Aloud

We all know that reading aloud to our children impacts their lives for the better. But did you know that we can actually see this impact on MRI scans?

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have proven that kids who are read to more often are better set up for literacy success later on. Reading aloud to children actually changes the structure of their brains and the ways in which their brains make connections, literally shaping their brains to read!

According to Dr. John Hutton, Director of the Reading Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, preschoolers who are read to on a regular basis develop better pre-reading skills (like being able to hear phonograms or rhyming words) and have larger vocabularies. Their brains visualize more when listening to stories (imagining), and they develop better visual skills for reading (recognizing more letters and words faster).

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In addition, the method by which children experience stories is just as important as how often they read books.

Audiobooks were shown to strain the language network in the brain as young children had to process above-level content without pictures to aid them in understanding.

Watching animated stories consumed children’s visual networks and suppressed the language, imagination, and attention networks in their brains.

Illustrated books were found to hit the “sweet spot” in child brain development, exciting an optimal balance between the language, visual, imagination, and attention networks in the brain. According to Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival, there’s nothing to be gained from moving your child up from illustrated books to novels too soon!

We hope you will take time to listen to the following Read Aloud Revival podcast (beginning around the 9-minute mark) and to read the article below by Dr. Hutton on how to dialogue with your child as you read. Learn how to make a worthwhile investment in your child’s brain for life!

Click here to listen to a Read Aloud Revival podcast featuring Dr. John Hutton of the Reading and Literacy Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital!
(start near the 9-minute mark)

Enhancing HOW you read to your children – making it more interactive rather than simply reading the words aloud – has the potential to significantly improve their development of literacy and comprehension skills. The dialogic method takes reading from passive listening to a two-way exercise where there is back-and-forth dialogue between kids and parents. The book is simply a tool, or catalyst, that gets the conversation going.

For more information on how you can interact with your child during your read-aloud sessions, read this brief article written by Dr. Hutton based on his research on dialogic reading.

Read the article:
Study Shows Interactive Reading With Kids May Increase Cognitive Development

About John S. Hutton, MD, MS:
Dr. John S. Hutton, MD, MS, is a pediatrician and clinical researcher in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and Director of the Reading Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. His unique reading background includes almost 20 years at the helm of Blue Manatee Children’s Bookstore, which in 2019 was converted into Blue Manatee Literacy Project, a 501c3 non-profit providing books and reading experiences to underserved children. He has published 29 children’s books, many with health-promoting themes. His books have been adopted in statewide public health campaigns and distributed to millions of families, proceeds benefiting non-profit advocacy groups. He serves as “spokes-doctor” for the Read Aloud 15 MINUTES national campaign and on the national Medical Advisory Board of the Reach Out and Read program.

Dr. Hutton’s research at Cincinnati Children’s covers all facets of pediatric general and health literacy. He is applying MRI to better understand the influence of modifiable aspects of home reading and screen environments on structural and functional brain networks supporting emergent literacy, the skills and attitudes preparing a child for reading. His work was the first to document such effects prior to kindergarten, widely featured in national media.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9

Keep reading the PCS blog for more on the benefits of reading to your children!

Header photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

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