New studies provides first neurobiological evidence of potential benefits of reading, detriments of screen time
A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital investigated the influence of the home literacy environment on children’s brain structure between the ages of three and five. The team discovered that children who lived in homes with more nurturing reading environments had better organization and myelination in white matter tracts of the brain supporting language and emergent literacy skills.
To conduct the study, researchers first assessed the home literacy environment. They used a structured questionnaire to ask parents about how often they read with children, the content and concepts in the books, and how interactive the shared reading sessions were. Then, they looked at children’s brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Some of the data “suggest more developed infrastructure for language in children exposed to more reading at home,” the paper explains.
The team conducted this study in tandem with another that evaluated the influence of screen time on developing brains. The study found that children who used screens more frequently had “lower measures of structural integrity and myelination, especially in tracts involved with language and literacy skills,” the New York Times reported.
The results of the studies are not conclusive, but are the first to provide neurobiological evidence for the potential benefits of reading and potential detriments of screen time on a preschool child’s brain development, Dr. Jill Gilkerson, LENA’s Chief Research and Evaluation Officer, explained on Twitter.
“Kids this age, they need human experiences for their brains to develop optimally and reinforce these tracts,” Dr. Hutton told the New York Times. “We just really need to be careful about making sure kids have access to these same human interactive experiences that probably our brains are wired to require.”
Equipping parents with knowledge of early brain development may support healthy child development
When parents know more about how their newborn’s brain develops, they’re more likely to provide an environment that fosters social and intellectual growth in the baby’s first year, a new study from the University of Chicago suggests.
Researchers at the TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health, a group which uses LENA Home to provide early talk interventions for low-income families, assessed how much parents knew about early brain development during visits to the doctor in the first week after giving birth. Then, they looked at whether that knowledge might predict the parents’ caregiving behavior nine months later, Reuters reports.
Parents who knew more about how babies’ brains develop in the first week were more sensitive and responsive to their children when babies were 9 months old, researchers found. While teaching their child, they were more sensitive to the infant’s actions, noticing vocalizations and facial expressions, and more likely to create opportunities for the infant’s learning and development. They were also more likely to communicate with their child in a warm, positive tone.
Children who are read to frequently in first five years will hear a million more words than their peers by age five
Children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than children who were never read to, a new study from The Ohio State University found.
To make this estimation, researchers first counted how many words were in each of 60 books for infants and toddlers frequently checked out of a local library. They determined an average of 140 words in board books and 228 words in picture books. Then, the team calculated how many words a child would hear during the first five years of life based on different levels of reading.
They estimated that children who were read to infrequently would hear 4,662 words from books between the ages of 0 to 5, whereas a child read to five times a day would hear 1,483,300 words from books.
“This isn’t about everyday communication. The words kids hear in books are going to be much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home,” lead author Jessica Logan told Science Daily.
Logan said the million word gap found in this study is likely to be conservative. Parents will often talk about the book they’re reading with their children or add elements if they have read the story many times. This “extra-textual” talk will reinforce new vocabulary words that kids are hearing and may introduce even more words.