Turns Out, This Is Your Child’s Brain On Books. Here’s What It Means.

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Moms and dads know how important reading is to young children, as well as how screen time ideally should be limited. But new studies are showing exactly how books can affect your child’s brain and why you should be choosing literature and limiting electronic media.

Jessica Ewing, CEO of Literati (a of subscription book club) and graduate of Stanford University in Cognitive Science recently gave an interview talking about this topic, how books affect your child’s brain.

She likens the relationship between books, electronic media, and your child’s brain to Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Using brain scans, scientists are able to watch how a child’s brain reacts to different types of inputs, whether or not connections fire and build inside.

Electronic media is the “too hot” porridge.  Consuming it is too easy and there is too much stimulation.  Brain connections don’t need to fire when choosing these.  On the contrary, pure audio is often to the “too cold” porridge for young children.  It is hard to connect with, due to the lack of visual stimulation, and new neural connections don’t develop either.  

Picture books are the “just right” porridge.  They contain the right amount of audio and visual stimulation to enrich rapidly growing brains, with their mixtures of words and pictures.  The tactile experience of holding and reading a book also helps store important connections for later and build memories.

Ewing strongly believes in the power of the printed word, with physical books being preferable to tablets and e-books.  She states:

The science we are seeing with screens and kids brains is quite frightening. The exact same organized white matter we see in brains of kids who are read to frequently turns into chaos with screens and devices. It’s almost like the exact opposite effect.  The language centers of the brain are needed to support success in school. Replacing books with screens may put your child at a massive educational disadvantage. At this point, screens are a huge risk we’re taking with new generations.

She also reassures parents that “any book a child loves to read is a good book.”  There is value to reading the same book many times and value to reading new books.  Giving children a choice in what they want to read and suggesting books to discover new interests are equally important.  

Above all, it is the act of reading that imperative to building brain connections for the future and one of the most important things a parent can do with their child.

concept of brain power, graphic of brain with lightning and broken polygon element

Oh, and if you needed further proof, the scan below is what your child’s brain looks like while being read to or while reading. Cool, right?

Brain scan of preschooler read to regularly by a caregiver. Red shows increased, organized white matter in language centers, which is necessary to support development in school.

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