Reading To Young Children Stimulates Brain Development, Creates Nurturing Environment
SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — Research from the 5B45 initiative showed the more words little children were exposed to, especially before they turn five-years-old, the better.
Experts said reading not only builds their brains, but helps a child feel nurtured and loved.
It’s not very often you get to meet the author of your favorite book, but four-year-old Eli, three-year-old Emily, and baby Shanae are lucky enough to also call her mom.
“I love seeing them read that one because they just crack up every time at a certain page,” Erica Richardson said about one of the picture books she wrote for her children.
Richardson has always been passionate about reading. When she became a mom, she tried her hand at writing, inspired by the imaginations of her children.
She has self-published children’s picture books and middle-grade books.
Her first book in the Cottonwood Chronicles, Luna’s Rescue, centers around her own family life.
“It’s about our pet Gecko and about my three kids, and the Gecko ends up having to rescue the whole family, but I definitely carried their personalities into the book,” she described.
She knows reading stimulates their young brains in ways technology can’t.
“I’ve noticed with kids, like in language, they just repeat whatever they hear, so the more words we can expose them to by reading books, the more words they kind of store in their brain,” Richardson said.
Dr. Neal Davis, a pediatrician with Intermountain Healthcare, said studies show reading leads to stronger brain development.
“Their language development is better, they’re more ready to learn, their literacy is better,” he said. “They so desperately need those language interactions in high quantities that are also qualitatively positive and nurturing.”
He said studies show children who were involved in educational screen time were slightly delayed compared to those who were not.
Davis said screen time is a two-dimensional activity and not optimal for brain development in really young children. But he argued reading to a child is a three-dimensional activity because it involves pointing to the book, looking and interacting with one another.
Richardson said her children, like many others, are very smart with technology.
“They can navigate computers and iPads by themselves,” she said.
But reading has forced her children to better use their brains.
“I’ve noticed that with a book, it’s almost a similarly engaging thing, but it requires more from them and it increases their attention span better than watching a movie or something,” she said. “I like that they have to put effort into creating and imagining the characters, seeing the pictures.”
Davis said reading is about more than just the book.
“It’s the power of that nurturing,” he explained. “Those times are often more important than the other maybe things we might consider big life events.”
He said those moments build connection and let a child know they’re loved.
“There’s something magic about those kinds of interactions,” he said. “My daughter definitely loves sitting in our laps. It means a lot to them, because it’s one of the times they know that they have our complete attention.”
Davis encouraged parents to give their child an opportunity to lead out in choosing which books they read. He said that instills confidence in a child.
Richardson found this was an important practice for her children.
“They don’t get to make many choices as little kids, so it’s really helpful for them to have areas that they can make those choices, like picking up books at the library or which books we’re gonna read together,” she said.
Davis also told parents to not be so rigid about what it means to read a story.
“It could be that you pull out a book, you start a story and you end up wrestling or turning on dancing music and you might not finish the story, but there’s a bigger story, and that’s why it’s magical,” he said.
It all starts with a habit, Davis said.
For the Richardsons, that means weekly trips to the library and a bedtime reading routine.
“Put aside your own distractions. Make a moment,” he encouraged.
“Books are designed so that they can fit in your lap and have the book seal them in. I think it’s just a really safe space for them where they can learn and get all the connection they need,” Richardson said.
Davis said it doesn’t matter what language you speak at home — reading in any language to your children will help build their brain.
More ideas on how to have creative and meaningful reading interactions with children can be found at 5B45kids.com.
Intermountain Healthcare also offers a program called Reach Out and Read, where pediatricians or family medicine providers give a book to a child starting at six months of age until the child is five-years-old. The program is available at certain clinics to help families with limited resources get access to children’s books, in addition to teaching parents and caregivers how to engage in nurturing activities with their children.
“When we give a book, we model kind of how to interact with the child with the book — how to point, how to look at them, how to laugh and engage with the child,” Davis described.
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