High-tech imaging reveals how reading affects child's brain

How many books did you read to your child this summer? A new study finds it's way more than just a bonding exercise.

New high-tech imaging reveals exactly what's going on in a brain that's actively engaged in reading.

"Reading is more than just a nice thing to do with a child if there's time. It really is a critical aspect of brain health," said pediatrician John Hutton.

But Hutton also has a unique perspective, because besides having a pediatric practice, he's also the owner of a bookstore.

Hutton and his colleagues took a group of 3 to 5-year-olds from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and brought each in for an MRI. The children listened to stories through headphones while researchers measured brain activity.

"From that, we asked the parents questions about the early reading environment of the child. How often are they read to? How many books do they have at home?" Hutton explained.

The study, which was published in the Journal "Pediatrics," found that children with a strong early reading experience had increased activation in the portion of the brain that supports semantics, or word processing, and visual imagery.

Dr. Hutton said, "Interestingly, during the story task there were no pictures. It was all audio. But we found the kids were still activating the visual parts of their brain that showed they were bringing the story to life in their mind's eye."

The findings of this research suggests the more early exposure kids have to reading, the better chance they have to become stronger, more enthusiastic readers later on.

Experts say parents should try to carve out 15 minutes a day just for reading. And, they say, make it interactive! Encourage your child to ask questions about the story, or share what they thought about it.

When you give a child a book and some of your time, researchers say you are fostering critical skills that will last a lifetime.
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