Discovering literature while still in diapers

As with eating or talking, children learn to relate to books by observing their elders. But unlike eating and talking, creating the bond between babies, children, and the written word is a much more active process. Mothers, fathers and adult caretakers all have a role to play in making that magical connection happen. Thankfully, though, the ingredients of this magic spell are not a secret.

Organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) recommend that younger children see their parents or adults reading on a daily basis. They suggest that the act of reading should become a daily routine as important as brushing one’s teeth, with at least twenty minutes dedicated to reading time with children every day.

The importance of encouraging reading from the cradle is not new. As early as 1978, educational psychologists Jerome Bruner and Anat Ninio published a study which became a classic, revealing that from the age of 8 months, babies begin to interact with adults in relation to elements in their environment. In their own way, they “comment” on what surrounds them, using and developing their capacity for shared attention. To encourage this, parents can introduce reading as an activity for babies from the first days or weeks of life. 

In today’s screen-based world, there are now many ways to integrate those screens into reading moments that give children access to engaging literature. However, it still remains important to give young children access to works on paper. In fact, a recent study at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center showed that reading aloud to a child with a story explained using still pictures promotes far more brain development than hearing the same story while watching a video. That’s why it’s always a great idea to have books in the home or when traveling – they are instantly accessible, and never need to be recharged. 

Prioritizing the baby-literature bond sets in motion what some researchers call the “virtuous circle of reading.” Those who read a lot from an early age develop cognitive skills that lead them to read more and more as they get older. These were some of the conclusions that specialists Anne Cunningham, from the University of Berkeley (United States), and Keith Stanovich, from the University of Toronto (Canada), set out in a study published in 2017.

These finding are reinforced by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center research which showed, when listening to stories, a higher level of brain activity in children aged 3 to 5 whose parents were in the habit of reading to them from a very young age.  

The Cincinnati researchers also studied the areas of the brain that project mental images, to assess how well a child is able to “see the story” through images generated by his or her imagination, as well as the activity detected in the parietal lobes, which are related to language and comprehension. Their findings showed that increased brain function was directly correlated to the reading level adults had passed on to children: More and better reading meant more and better brain function.

The science now backs up what parents and teachers have known for centuries: Books and literature help young minds develop, spark the imagination and boost comprehension, which, in turn, creates the desire to read more and more. Such is the magic generated in a child’s literary universe. 

Not just information: It’s also about emotion

“A child who doesn’t read has emotional anemia.” This is how Begoña Ibarrola, one of the most widely read authors of children’s stories in Spain, defined the importance of children’s literature in the emotional development of very young children. In a dialogue with the newspaper ABC, she highlighted that “stories encourage self-knowledge and emotional awareness, showing us who we are and, more importantly, who we can become”. 

In recent years, one work has become emblematic of how children’s literature addresses emotions: Anna Llenas’ The Coloured Monster. The protagonist is a character who helps explain emotions to children, using different colors to identify different moods. According to data from the publisher, Flamboyant, it has already been published in 25 languages and has sold more than one and a half million copies worldwide. 

 

Share at least 20 minutes a day reading with your children.  Let them choose what to read!