A recent post on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website discusses the importance of reading to young children to encourage the healthy development of their brain and language development, and their imaginations. There’s fantastic science that examines the positive correlation between early exposure to stories and language and neural development.
Research has shown us that different synaptic pathways in the brain are responsible for learning different skills – and that some of these synaptic pathways close as a child reaches the next stage of development. This is just one reason why reading to very young children is important. Other neural pathways, including those for expanding our vocabulary, never close. Because of that trait, which is called neuroplasticity, we can correlate that it’s never too late to begin reading together, either.
Neuroplasticity and How It Helps Us Learn
Neuroplasticity is, quite simply, the brain’s ability to change and adapt. In children, the brain’s neuroplasticity is at its all-time high, with new neural connections being formed nearly constantly – for gross and fine motor skills, language development, reading, maths, and more.
To take advantage of this neuroplasticity, children need to be stimulated – taught new skills, encouraged to figure things out on their own, and given an abundance of information (in small, easily digestible chunks) that will encourage the brain’s synaptic connections to form. A child’s job is to fill the giant storage centre that is their brain with data they will use throughout life. A parent or caregiver’s job is to support this endeavour. Reading plays a large role in this, as numerous studies show.
“I think that we’ve learned that early reading is more than just a nice thing to do with kids,” says Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in a New York Times article. “It really does have a very important role to play in building brain networks that will serve children long-term as they transition from verbal to reading.”
Scientists previously believed that our brains were fixed by adulthood, but have since learned that the brain continues adapting and forming new neural connections throughout life. That means we are never too old to learn a new skill, enhance our vocabulary, or change our way of looking at things – and neither are our children!
The Autism Brain and Language Development
Research has discovered that, like neurotypical children, the brains of autistic children also have neuroplasticity. Most parents of children on the autism spectrum can see that their child can learn new things and pick up new skills.
The challenge often lies in an autistic child’s inability to be aware of differences – in language, behaviour, movements, and emotions. Once an autistic child learns how to start detecting differences, new doors open that can lead to learning how to communicate better, perform new tasks, and learn how to read.
Benefits of Reading Together
Since reading helps expand vocabulary throughout life, stimulates our imaginations, and keeps our brain forming new neural connections, it’s important to keep reading to children, and encouraging them to read to themselves, throughout the school years and into adulthood.
Parents can read stories aloud that may be too difficult for a child to read on their own, further inspiring a love of reading and exploring strange new worlds – and words – together through books and eBooks.
If you’ve been reading to your child since birth (or even before then) there is no reason to stop just because your child can now read on their own now. And if you haven’t developed a habit of regularly reading with your child, it’s never too late to start. Read together. Read independently. Just read.