Dr. Klass notes, in a recent New York Times article, that although studies have looked at what happens when parents speak to their children, there had not been extensive research on the specific impact of reading to a child, as opposed to just talking to them. She shares that two new studies shed new light on just what happens when children are read to and the benefits this can have for learning and development.
In one study, researchers used a form of functional MRI to map the areas of the brain that were activated when preschool children listened to stories. They determined that those who had been read to more frequently at home showed greater activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension. The brain region that was activated is the same one that is used when older children are reading to themselves and the researchers believe that children who build their brain circuits by being read to when they are young may be better equipped to make the transition to reading on their own when they are older.
Another study looked at a group of picture books often used when reading to young children. The researchers found that these picture books contained more unique types of words than were found when parents spoke directly to their children. They concluded that the text of picture books may be an important source of vocabulary for young children.
A benefit that was not quantified by these studies is the joy for both parent and child of sitting together, cuddled up, and sharing a book. Parents of young children may get tired of reading the same favorite story over and over and over, but early childhood is fleeting. Besides, many years later, you will probably be able to remember all the words to those books you read aloud dozens of times!