The power of story time for young learners, Part 1

once-upon-a-time-719174_640There’s a special place in the heart for children’s books and stories. Whether it’s Mother Goose’s easy imagery, Dr. Seuss’s lyricism, Eric Carle’s illustrations, or any other childhood favorite, stories can impact young children in magical ways. We’ve known this intuitively for years, and research consistently corroborates the indirect benefits of books on the developing mind.

Now, scientists have been able to look at what happens in the brain when reading takes place. This article summarizes one of the coolest results: reading exposure in early childhood is directly correlated to strong brain activity in the area where mental imagery takes place. If there were any doubts, “imagination” is a real thing that can be plotted onto a real area of the brain, and reading correlates to strong imagination.

The study was straightforward: children from homes with varying levels of parent-child interaction were played books on tape, and their brain activity was measured. The children who were read to most frequently had strong activation in verbal centers and were more capable of seeing the story in their mind’s eye. So not only does reading expose children to high volumes of vocabulary, which is critical for school success; it also strengthens the word-image associations, giving them mastery over the vocabulary they are already growing.

This research increases the urgency of exposing young English learners to books and literacy practice. Picture an EL who has had little exposure to native-language books at home, then enters school with limited English proficiency, then reaches the age where books are written in complex language and lack pictures or visual context. The window for quick intervention is small but crucial, and this research should redouble efforts to increase story time in the home, before children even enter school.

Read Part 2 here, where we talk about story time in the classroom, and its amazing benefits for English learners.

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