Monday, March 14, 2016

The Science Behind Reading to Your Kids

Have you heard about the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? More Harry Potter in my life? Yes, please.  New Harry Potter things brings me back to a wonderful time in my life when I was the 11-year-old girl with buckteeth and frizzy hair hoping to be cast as Hermione. *Side note: My sister and I really did try out for the Harry Potter movies in one of the most embarrassing and epic home videos I have ever seen.  Yes, we thought it would be ingenious if we “rode” in and off screen… with both of us on a single broom. And yes, it is better than you can imagine or I could describe.*

Anyway! When I was younger, my dad took me to a local bookstore that had a breakfast release party for the kids who couldn’t stay up to midnight: they made porridge in a cauldron and it was magical. As I got older, my dad started taking me to the midnight book releases, even when I was a bratty teenager. These were the years where I didn’t want to be seen with my dad otherwise, but on those nights, I knew we had a date and I didn’t want to share those first few moments of getting my hands on a new Harry Potter book with anyone else. 

Bless him. He used to buy the books on tape, given that he doesn’t have much free time for reading, so he could drive and listen and then share the excitement with me. “Can you believe Harry had to fight that dragon?”  my Dad would say after coming home from work. “Nooooooo!!” I would squeal “Just wait until you get to the next part!”.

My Dad cultivated and encouraged a love of reading through all these adventures with Harry Potter. When I wanted to be one of the first ones to get my hands on the books, he made it happen. When I wanted to try out for the films, he filmed our antics. When I needed to gush over the books, he listened.  I credit the amazing series for a large part of my love of reading, but when I had my own daughter and reflected on how I would introduce Harry Potter to her, I came to realize how much of my love of reading came from my Dad being so encouraging, even well before Harry Potter was on my radar.  My earliest memories consist of bedtime stories,  trips to bookstores, and visits to the library. All of these things my parents did for me prepared me to be able to pick up a novel like Harry Potter and really enjoy reading it!

Professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and advocacy groups have encouraged parents to read to their children from birth to foster early learning and create connections in the brain that promote language development. However, until recently, there was no direct evidence of reading’s effects on the brain. Now, in new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in April 2015, it has been demonstrated that reading to young children is in fact associated with differences in brain activity supporting early reading skills.
The children in the study underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fancy way to basically takes lots of pictures of the brain) to measure brain activity while they were listening to age-appropriate stories via headphones.
Results showed that greater home reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.

Pretty cool, huh?

Did you have a favorite book series growing up? Or a favorite story you made your parents read to you over and over again? I personally loved Richard Scarry’s “What do People do all day?” and still have that book in my bedroom at home!

If you’re also a big Harry Potter fan check out this quiz. I expected to be Hermione, secretly wanted to be Bellatrix Lestrange, and I actually go Minerva McGonagall. My husband got Dobby the house elf…and that pretty much sums up our relationship!

If you want to read more about the study I talk about, check it out here.

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