Reading for beginners

Ah, the wonderful sound of silence that creeps throughout the house when a book falls open at a favourite page. That’s the moment in the evening that most parents wait all day for. The moment when you know it’s nearing your child’s bedtime and the busy little bodies stop being busy for a split second to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly.

My two Little Bears are busy all day long and continue to run, jump, yell, and destroy possessions even during our mandated book time. But we push forward with book time and do whatever is necessary to get them involved in reading because of how important it is for brain development.

Three years ago, a study on the importance of reading was conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Hospital, where 19 preschoolers between 3-5 years (37% from low income families) underwent MRI scans while listening to their parents read a story to them through headphones, with no visual stimuli. The study showed that greater home reading exposure (reading for short periods often) was associated with the ability to “see the story beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination.” They could actually see the part of the brain responsible for imagination increase in function while the children listened to a story. They concluded that early reading allows children to easily transition from books with pictures to books without pictures due to the neuron pathways built in this portion of the brain.

Another study, a 50 yearlong study conducted at Edinburgh University starting in 1958, followed 17,000 seven year olds in England, Scotland, and Wales. The study proved the connection between reading well and future job success. Because of the massive sample size (so many seven year olds), they determined that engaged readers from households with fewer material advantages (lower income families) routinely outperformed less engaged readers from families with many material advantages. It doesn’t matter how many books you have, just read them!

Additionally, Leonard Sax, a well-known psychiatrist and physician, states gender also plays a gigantic role on the outcomes of a child’s life, and boys tend to fair less than their gender counterparts. From Grade 3 through to Grade 12, there is a literacy gap between boys and girls. Boys tend to drop out of school more often, attend post-secondary school less often, get poorer scores than girls, and have greater behavioural and addiction problems. Leonard Sax attributes these differences to video games, particularly violent video games, and has numerous studies to back up his theory.

Having two boys myself, I wanted to know the antidote to Doom and Grand Theft Auto, and it turns out it’s reading! Reading fiction especially, as the astounding benefits come from empathizing with the characters’ hopes, dreams, joys, and downfalls. Through empathy, reading increases social functioning because literature doesn’t just help children learn emotions, but experience emotions, a form of practice for later life. With greater social functioning, comes greater control and desire to achieve.

The Edmonton Public Library has tips on how and when to read to youngsters:
• Read at least once a day when your child/children are in a cuddly mood
• Read for any length of time but short, positive reading sessions are much more valuable than long ones
• Repetition deepens understanding so read favourite books over and over (and over)
• Engage children by reading to exaggerated voices, acting out stories, and switching voices for different characters
• Read books that incorporate interaction – kissy/cuddly books are my favourite, dancing books are Grizzly Bear’s favourite (my 3 year old), and flip-the-flap books are my Polar Bear’s favourite (my 1 year old)

For more resources, understanding, ideas or tips on reading to young ones, please visit KARA and register in our Literacy and Parenting Skills or Books for Babies programs. Your public library will also have information and programs regarding the importance of reading to infants and preschoolers.

To check out the studies listed above, follow the links below (but try to mix in some fiction reading too)!