Thursday, March 19, 2015

The importance of reading to your child

I had to talk to a great group of girls (and one guy) about the importance of reading to your kids. It's a high school dedicated to pregnant teenagers and new teenager moms. It was for Dr. Seuss' birthday (which I was late for because of illness), so today was my make up day. I read them "Are You My Mother" and then gave a little speech. I'm a terrible public speaker, but here's what I had to say to them. And reading to your baby is so very important.

Keep in mind that this was an informal, casual speech, so some of my facts, if they were really scientific-y or long winded, I just copied and pasted into my paper. It wasn't for class or credit or money, so there's no plagiarism. I've sited all my sources at the bottom, but didn't use any MLA or ALA formatting. :) Enjoy!

Reading to your child
It’s an amazing thing, having a baby and becoming a mom. We helped create another living being. We carried them and nurtured them for 9 months. We went through child birth to bring them into this world. And in the first second we meet this precious little human, we are filled with an unparalleled level of love for someone we’ve just only met. Instantly, we would do anything for them. If we needed to, we would die for them.

So, if we would be willing to go so far as to die for our little ones, to make their lives better, wouldn't it make sense that we would also want to do something as simple and easy as reading to them to offer them the best advantage in their lives? It seems like reading would be too simple, too easy to make that big of a difference. But you’d be surprised.

I was excited when I was asked to come here and talk to you about the importance of reading to children because I believe so strongly in it and it is so important. I am a voracious reader. And I’m a writer. I review books for the Idaho Statesman and various publishers. I am passionate about reading and books and how important it is to us as individuals and our culture. To sit down with a book (or ereader) in my hand and see it on the page, to notice how beautifully something can be expressed by another mind, as a change from hearing it on a tape or see it on the big screen actually involves more of the mind.

So when I had my first baby, I wanted to make sure she loved books as much as I did. I read to her in the womb, I read to her in the middle of the night when she was a newborn and I was trying to get her to sleep. I read to her now, and she reads to us. It’s true that genes play a part in how smart your child will be, but genes set up the general wiring of their brain, the nurturing your child gets, reading and time, fine tune those connections.

It’s easy to just say, “Read to your child, it helps them develop and it is so important”, but I think that a better understanding of our child’s brains will help us full appreciate the importance of that claim.
How much of your child’s brain, do you think, is developed by the age of 3? How about 5? 80% and 90% of your child’s brain is developed by that young age, and this time is known as their critical learning years, and a vital window for language-learning tends to close at around 5. So it makes sense to make the most out of it. And think about how much they’ve accomplished from the time they’re born – unable to control their bodily functions or focus on anything to running around, cracking jokes, and giving us gray hairs. There is so much that happens!

There are many theories of what helps to stimulate a baby’s brain and make them “smarter”, reading, playing classical music, etc. What are some of the things you have heard? However, those are just theories. The only proven stimulation is language. Babies that are read to and talked to, engaged with, show more advanced linguistic skills, mathematical skills, and cognitive abilities than babies that are not. It’s also been shown that children score better on standardized test over those who were not read to. This is the easiest and best way to make the most of their critical brain-building & development years.

As babies, each of us is born with the potential to learn language. Our brains are programmed to recognize human speech, to distinguish subtle differences between individual speech sounds, and to put words and meaning together. But, the particular language each child masters, the size of his vocabulary, is dependent upon the environment in which he is raised--that is, the thousands of hours he has spent (beginning even before birth) listening and speaking to others. We have the responsibility and the opportunity and the duty to teach our children to read; to unlock that language learning potential.

The brain is an incredible organ. Our brain is not a fixed structure. It’s development is what’s known as “activity-dependent”, meaning that the electrical activity in every circuit shapes the way that circuit is put together. Every experience we have, everything we learn creates folds and circuits. The more we experience, the stronger they become. Did you know it “prunes” itself? Just like we would prune a rose bush – cutting away the dead, or withering, of just too small areas, the brain may drop away certain neural circuits that are rarely excited or stimulated. That makes sense, right? Think about cramming for a test. We learn all this information, never use it again, and then it’s gone. The opposite is also true, neural circuits that are regularly stimulated are strengthened and they grow.

And while "pruning," may sound harsh, it is generally a good thing. It streamlines children's neural processing, making the remaining circuits work more quickly and efficiently. Without synaptic pruning, children wouldn't be able to walk, talk, or even see properly. But in the end, we want to make sure that the brain is pruning the areas that don’t need to be there, rather than pruning the areas that are malnourished. So, reading and talking to your child has the power to change the actual structure of the brain, just like not reading or talking to your child will do it in reverse.

So much comes from the early years regarding a child’s language skills. Not only do their critical years for language-learning tend to be less absorbent after the age 5, but certain skills, including grammar and the ability to understand and notice and produce individual speech sounds, are more sensitive than others to a child’s experience with language in the first few years of life.
Going back to the action of the brain pruning itself, there is a theory that there is a period of synaptic excess in the brain: between infancy and the early grade school years, the brain actually over-produces connections--about 50 percent more than will be preserved in adulthood. During the critical period, a child's experience--sensory, motor, emotional, and intellectual--determines which of these synapses will be preserved, through pruning of the least useful connections. In this way, each child's brain becomes better tuned to meet the challenges of his or her particular environment. So we want to make sure the right things are being pruned.

So, now that we know more about the brain, how it functions, when it learns, and so on, what would we say are some of the benefits of reading to your child? (pause for answers?)

  • ·         Good bonding experience for you and your child. Not only are you sitting and cuddling, but a baby would rather listen to you talk or sing to them than anything else.
  • ·         How many of you read to your child? What are some things you notice that your baby does when you read to them? Stimulates their brain, improves their listening skills, and gives them an interest in sounds. Brain development is so heavily dependent on early experiences.
  • ·         When we read to Hailee, we run our fingers under the words so that she can connect that those funny looking squiggles mean something, have sound, have images. And as a result…..give examles of Hailee
  • ·         Starts introducing different objects and concepts and ideas to them in a fun way
  • ·         Builds strong memory, listening, and vocab skills, being spoken to a lot, children at age of three scored higher on standard tests than other kids whose parents didn’t
  • ·         True or false? By the time your little one is 1, they will have learned all of the sounds they need for talking. True So, the more you talk to them and read to them and sing to them, the more words they’ll have in their vocabulary and the easier it will be for them to talk
  • ·         Kids who have parents that read to them regularly, have a much better vocab by the age of two than others, which will let them communicate better; and babies that were read to as newborns have better math skills
  • ·         We never read to our child in a boring way. We use emotion, and theater expression, which teaches our kids social and emotional development. And babies are active readers, pointing, looking, laughing mimicking, asking and answering questions – which promotes social development and thinking skills
  • ·         Most importantly, instills the love of reading and of books.

It has been such an honor to come and speak with you ladies, today. You have not chosen an easy path, but it is the most noble of paths and it takes an astounding amount of courage to live it on a daily basis, and you are to be applauded. The decision to go through with your pregnancy, to continue with your education and schooling and holding down a job while raising your child--and the majority of you are probably single mothers—is not the easiest one. You will be richly blessed and rewarded for the time and love you are putting into these little lives that have been entrusted to you. My mom was a single mom raising twins, and I saw every day the amount of love she had for us in the sacrifices that she made. So keep doing what you’re doing, keep working hard and bettering yourselves and doing the best for your children. Read to them and love on them and kiss them. Cherish every moment because it goes too fast and none of us knows how long it will last.  Give them the moon and stars. Your child's development is so very important.  Start their lives in the right direction.  There's no greater gift. 

Thank you.



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