Though reading is a skill built in stages, babies are wired for reading years before they can turn a page or begin to understand what’s on it. National Book Month (October) makes an extra special, seasonal reason to leaf through a book with your child or infant.
An August 2016 article from M.I.T. titled, “Early Brain Connections Key to Reading,” reported on research showing that a region of a child’s brain “dedicated to reading” actually “has connections necessary for that skill even before children learn to read,” referring to this as the visual word form area (VWFA). The study itself appeared in the Aug. 8, 2016 issue of Nature Neuroscience. Researchers did MRI brain scans of children at age 5—before learning to read—and again, afterward, at age 8 and found that “they could predict the precise location where each child's visual word form area (VWFA) would develop, based on the connections of that region to other parts of the brain.” The M.I.T. article noted that “The brain's cortex, where most cognitive functions occur, has areas specialized for reading as well as face recognition, language comprehension, and many other tasks.”
Though not specifically suggested in the article, this “pre-reading” brain wiring would seem to support the benefits of reading to kids, beginning in infancy. It also aligns with a policy statement the American Academy of Pediatrics issued in 2014, which included this frequently quoted section: “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.”
In fact a Parents magazine article titled “The Benefits of Reading to Your Newborn,” suggests that reading to newborns provides bonding time, prepares babies for later reading on their own, and boosts brain power. The article touches on a report in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics showing one study found that reading to babies in the NICU can “help parents develop the same feelings of intimacy that parents of healthy newborns cultivate in the days and weeks after a baby's birth.” The Parents article also notes that “Research shows that the more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared he is to eventually start reading on his own.”
National Book Month offers an excellent opportunity to shine an extra bright spotlight on reading. Although the National Book Foundation no longer sponsors the event, one of their website pages still offers great ideas for ways that teachers can recognize/celebrate the National Book Month, many of them adaptable by parents. For example, one idea is family reading as “homework.” After everyone reads the same book, kids can write a report on how the book affected each member of the family. (This also enhances reading comprehension and critical thinking skills!) The list also suggests having kids write a letter to their favorite author. The most classic tip of all? Read kids a bedtime story!
For young readers, the 3-level Start to Read! Complete Early Reading Program 18-Book Set builds a great foundation, with a wide variety of highly relatable stories. (These stories are also preloaded to the Little Scholar® Mini learning tables for ages to 7.) The My First Book series of board books for preschoolers introduces important pre-reading and early reading skills, including rhyming, shapes, colors, and more (with some U.K. spelling conventions). Similarly, the 5-book Little Ones Sticker Skill Book Collection for even younger kids (toddlers ages 2-3) introduces and reinforces basic skills (colors, numbers, lines, opposites, and thinking) by integrating skills “work” with kids’ favorite thing: sticker play!
Open a book with your child this month, and harvest fruits that will feed their futures in so many ways.