Young Childrens’ Brains Thrive on Books

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that MRI scans can tell us quite a bit about brains with injuries. Brain scans can tell us quite a bit about healthy brains, too.

Recently, therapists and researchers at Cambridge University decided to scan the brains of healthy young children while they were reading (or being read to), while listening to radio, and then a third time while they were looking at media (television, animation and cell phone screens).

The brain scans showed a remarkable difference in brain function between the two sessions.

When young children watched any kind of media, their growing brains registered what they were watching but did not show a lot of neural connection activity. In other words, the language and learning centers of the children’s brains were not lighting up.

Researchers believe the consumption of these materials is too easy for the young brain. The connections of action, spoken word and the resolution of the material was already laid out for them. No creativity or problem solving was required, therefore little learning.

Listening to pure audio content such as a child-friendly podcast or radio program were also a part of this research. Audio-only formats seemed to be too cryptic to coax a child’s visual cortex into establishing robust neural connections. It might be that audio programs are simply too difficult for a young developing brain to process.

Interestingly, looking at picture books was right on target — neither too easy nor too difficult for young children to absorb, cause neural connectivity – and glean understanding (learning).

As Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback puts it, “A typical children’s picture book contains a mixture of verbal and visual cues in an illustrated story format. Being read to results in the healthiest brain development –we can actually see the brain reacting positively. The tactile experience of a physical book is also critical for the brain to store memories. The child’s brain just lights right up.”

So if media is too easy for positive brain development and pure audio is too hard to process, are all children’s books “just right” for brain development?

Leanne O’Neil weighs in:  “Of course, every child is different. So I would say that any book a child loves is a good book. In fact, just being asked to read a book over and over again is a sign that your child has found something her developing brain is drawn to. Quality children’s literature is a great way to introduce all kinds of values and ideas to children, the more creatively and inspirationally, the better.”

To summarize, a little screen time is not a bad thing. But too much screen time is. Keep books front and center to encourage more brain connectivity and more language development. Great books transcend all ages!