Books Build Better Brains — Childhood Learning and Brain Development Start at Birth

December 19, 2019

Many of us have fond memories of reading aloud with our parents or our own kids. Turns out, this is not only great bonding time, but it is also great for brain development and school success. Countless studies over the past 30 years, including research done by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Education, prove that reading aloud to our kids has huge benefits.

Hearing books read out loud strengthens children’s social, emotional, and character development, as well as their reading, comprehension, and grammar skills. Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, published a recent study showing that reading to very young children is linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties.

We also now know that 95% of all brain development happens in the first six years of our lives so “learning doesn’t start in kindergarten; it really starts the moment a child is born,” says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Hearing books read aloud also builds a lifelong love of reading, and children who love reading perform better in school overall.

However, many parents don’t have the resources to know or purchase the best books for their children’s developing brains. Enter Reach Out and Read (ROR), an award-winning literacy organization that has spent the past 30 years integrating literacy into routine pediatric care – getting books into more children’s hands and helping their parents understand the importance of reading aloud.

Every year, over 34,000 primary care doctors and pediatricians across the country help nearly 5 million children and families in both rural and urban communities. As part of the ROR program, trusted doctors coach parents about the benefits of reading aloud to their children, encourage them to build a routine around reading books, and help them learn how to talk about stories and themes with their children.

Reach Out and Read’s program doesn’t end with good lessons and skills. It takes the guesswork out, by giving parents a new, developmentally-appropriate book at each well-child visit.

Thirty years in, Reach Out and Read has had huge impacts in helping nurture healthy brains, inspiring a love of reading to last a lifetime, and setting children up for future success at school. Reading aloud sets children up for a lifetime of success, so grab a book and a loved one, and build reading time into your daily routine.

We also now know that 95% of all brain development happens in the first six years of our lives so “learning doesn’t start in kindergarten; it really starts the moment a child is born.”

Sources: “Reach Out and Read Indiana,” Indiana Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics; “Reach Out and Read: The evidence,” Reach Out and Read; “About Reach Out and Read WI,” Reach Out and Read Wisconsin; “Experts stress that child’s learning starts early – with the parents,” Herald Tribune; “Study says reading aloud to children, more than talking, builds literacy,” Education Source; “Reading aloud and child development,” American Academy of Pediatrics; “Reading aloud to young children has benefits for behavior and attention,” New York Times; “Why reading aloud to kids helps them thrive,” PBS; “Home reading environment and brain activation in preschool children listening to stories,” American Academy of Pediatrics; “Reading aloud, play and social-emotional development,” American Academy of Pediatrics; “30 reasons to read books,” Serious Reading; “Start early, finish strong: How to help every child become a reader – July 1999,” U.S. Department of Education; “Love of reading makes all the difference,” Institute of Reading Development.

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