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Engaging with children while reading ‘turbocharges’ literacy

Engaging with children while reading books to them gives their brain a cognitive “boost,” a new study found.

The study, based on functional magnetic resonance imaging, reinforces the value of “dialogic reading,” where the child is encouraged to actively participate.

“The takeaway for parents in this study is that they should engage more when reading with their child, ask questions, have them turn the page, and interact with each other,” said John Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and lead author of the study. “In turn, this could fuel brain activation–or ’turbocharge’ the development of literacy skills, particularly comprehension, in preschool aged children.”

The study used functional MRI scans of 22 girls, age 4, to explore the relationship between engagement and verbal interactivity during a mother-child reading observation and neural activation and connectivity during a story listening task.

Children exhibiting greater interest in the narrative showed increased activation in right-sided cerebellar areas of the brain. This is the area thought to support cognitive skill acquisition and refinement via connection to language, association and executive function areas, the study said.

“Our findings underscore the importance of interventions explicitly addressing both parent and child reading engagement, including awareness and reduction of distractions such as cellphones, which were the most common preventable barrier that we observed,” said Hutton.

Long-term studies are needed beginning in infancy to better understand mother-child factors contributing to healthy brain development and literacy skills since this study does not establish causation, the medical center said.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One

By: David Beasley, Staff Writer

Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

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