I have talked about the importance of reading to your child in previous Oxford Juniors blogs. That simple fact cannot be stressed too much. You actually are teaching your child how to read, just by reading to him. In this blog I want to share some of the specific brain research about reading and talking to babies and young children that supports what you are doing and hopefully inspire you to do more!
From birth your child’s brain is hard at work absorbing the language in her environment. As she grows she listens and incorporates what she hears around her in her own spoken language. But you don’t want to wait until your child can speak to talk and read to her. Her beautiful mind is absorbing all your words and ideas every day. The billions of brain cells a baby is born with need stimulation to develop the connections among the cells. This happens throughout the early years. When your child hears language spoken those pathways are strengthened.Reading and speaking to your child develops the language sections of the brain.
Research has shown that the more you talk to babies and young children… the faster they make connections between words and actions. When you talk and read to babies their brains make synaptic connections between spoken words, written words and actions. These words become part of their internal word bank that young children can “draw on” in the many years to come. Have you ever heard your child say something and you start to wonder…”Where did she hear that?” Just recently I was playing with my 2-year-old grand son Sid. He was showing me blocks and said, “Look Momo, these blocks are similar.” I don’t remember using that word with him but he knew how to use it correctly in a sentence.
Young children are good listeners, even when it seems like they aren’t really listening! Your child understands more than she can say in words. When you “narrate” the things you do together you provide her with the cognitive understanding of the “world of words.” Research shows that repeating short sentences and phrases as you are playing together can actually accelerate the language process and build the language centers of the brain. For example, repeat a word for a period of days. Use it in different ways within sentences.Repeat a new word in a number of ways using inflection to emphasize the word. “I see you are putting the ball into the tube. Into the tube it goes. The ball went into the tube. See, you put it in.”
Ask questions!Brain research has shown that when we ask young children questions we are stimulating synaptic growth, and are building curiosity and vocabulary…this works even if your child is too young to answer in words! You are modeling the language and vocabulary of wonder. For example, when you are introducing a new toy to your child you might ask these questions.
What can you do with this toy?
What can you do to make this toy work?
Can you try it another way?
Can you make it move?Can you do it faster?
Can you put something inside?
Can you take it out?
Can you put one on top?
Can you pull this with a string?
Where did it go?Can you find it?
Keep Reading…Keep Talking! Interestingly, studies suggest that the amount of words per hour your baby or young child actually hears directly affects her future success in school. In fact, the most critical time for your child to hear many new words and books is before the age of two! Reading books is one of the best ways to introduce new words and concepts.
While very young babies and even some young children may not respond or interact while being read to, their brains are actively receiving the sounds of your voice, the rhythms and rhymes of language. Keep reading! And don’t force your child to look at the page. She may just be delighting in the sound of your voice…and your face!Studies have shown that young children read your face as much as they look at the book. Be dramatic… be expressive! Dramatic facial expressions and eye contact engage your child’s brain and increases attention span.Expressive reading or dramatizing a book encourages baby to become more engaged, observant and expressive. Another reason this is important is that fact that reading to your child builds social attachment and intimacy. We know from research that these social skills are just as important as thinking skills and are all essential for brain building.Reading books together creates a warm and intimate connection with your child and strengthens the area of the brain related to dealing with stress.
“Music expresses that which can’t be put into words and which cannot remain silent.” -Victor Hugo
Sing it too! Research suggests that singing words can be more effective in the growth of your child’s brain centers for language than just speaking words! The great news is that you don’t really have to know how to sing. If the book you are reading has a repeating rhythm and rhyme…make up a simple tune to sing it! A simple song can help your child remember the words of the book and the repetitive reading and singing builds her listening skills as well as develops her receptive vocabulary. Do you remember learning simple songs to learn the ABC’s or the Days of the Week? Of course! We tend to remember words better when they are used in a repeating, rhythmic tune.
Add your child’s name!Research shows that your child’s understanding of language may begin with her own name. Studies show that young children seem to recognize new words that are said in conjunction with their own name. Incorporate your child’s name as you read a book or speak in sentences. Model new words as you add your child’s name. For example “Look Irene, a red leaf. Did you see the red leaf, Irene? Yes, Irene, that is a red leaf!”
Share languages. The diversity of language spoken to your child actually strengthens her understanding of these different languages. If possible, read a favorite book several times, using the different languages you know. Even if the book is not written in a particular language, you can still read and speak it with a variety of languages. This will help your child see that a story or book can be spoken in many languages. Brain research has found that languages that are not reinforced or “heard” in the early years often do not get reinforced. Without that reinforcement those language connections in the brain weaken and eventually wither away. The repetition of stories in many languages helps your child learn to understand speech and strengthens the language connections in the brain.An environment rich in language builds the listening and speaking area of the brain.
The process of taking the story or activity “off the page” of a book into a real life experience invites your child to make connections between words and actions and develops conceptual understanding. So keep on reading, and playing with words and stories. Your child listening to your repeated readings of familiar stories and rhymes help her develop the area of the brain associated with sound, vocabulary, language, memory and reading. Enjoy a good book together!