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Reading Changes a Child’s Brain: Here’s How

December 31, 2021

Reading to your baby can help you bond, but it also has long-lasting effects on your child’s brain, including reducing stress, slowing the progression of mental illness – and even increasing their life expectancy.

Reading isn’t a natural brain activity — it’s a learned one. Several parts of the brain work together for a person to learn to read. Areas of the brain used for vision, visual processing, language and speech production all connect to make reading a part of our daily lives. The connections within the temporal lobe, frontal lobe and occipital lobe give us the ability to learn how to read.

Learning to read early in a child’s life is key, as reading helps develop effective brain activation patterns. The brain literally becomes stimulated when a child learns to read. Because of this brain stimulation and interconnectivity, reading to your child can have both mental and physical benefits.

Benefits of Early Reading

The mental benefits of reading with your child begin with early bonding, and it has the potential to increase academic achievement through increasing vocabulary and learning comprehension. When a child experiences interactive reading, it can also help increase mental imagery and language processing.

Reading can benefit early readers physically, too. Children can experience stress, and reading with your child is a natural way to help decrease stress. Surprisingly, reading is thought to be even more calming than listening to music or taking a walk.

Reading has also been shown to slow down the progression of mental illness in children (such as anxiety or ADHD) by keeping the brain stimulated and active. Research shows that reading can even possibly increase your life expectancy.

According to the National Reading Council, to become good readers, children must develop:

  • Phonemic awareness — blending or segmenting the sounds in words using letters

  • Phonics skills — learning how letters are linked to sounds

  • Fluency — the ability to read orally with speed, accuracy and proper expression

  • Comprehension — the complex brain function allowing one to understand the text fully

These necessary components of reading can be enhanced by early reading activities.

Where To Start

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises early literacy development for children beginning in infancy and continuing at least until kindergarten. Parents can start reading with children from birth. Reading with your child can help to establish the early social bonding between parent and child. The first six years of life are essential for developing language and reading connections. Parents can begin by reading high contrast black and white picture books to their child.

First, help your child recognize pictures associated with words you are saying. Then, begin to identify letters and the sounds associated with them. As your child gets older and gains skills, you can have your child take a more active role with guided oral reading. Children can look for pictures and make up stories based on the images from the books.

Development continues with phonological processing, where you can get your child involved in sounding out letters and words. By continuing your reading activities together, you can further help build fluency, comprehension and an ongoing lifelong interest in reading.

Because much of this learning happens before formal schooling begins, parents often look for resources. Online resources like the Florida Center for Reading Research and your local library can often help parents enhance their reading experience with their children.

Childhood Challenges with Reading

Early on, pediatricians expect to see certain developmental sequences in children, such as rhyming and understanding syllables. By age 6, most children can identify both letters and letter sounds. These types of reading milestones should be discussed during your child’s annual physical.

You can partner with your child’s pediatrician to determine whether they would benefit from speaking to a specialist. Your child’s school should also be involved, if more help is needed.

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