Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction


It was Miriam’s idea to buy beginning children’s books as a first year birthday present for our great niece Gabrielle a few weeks ago.  It just seemed to make good sense to have her swiping at pages instead of a screen.

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Interacting with good old fashioned multisensory material in which engagement is tactile, visual, and verbal seems to confer so many neuro-cognitive advantages to the developing brain.  Sure enough, our niece tells us that Gabi loves her new books, and we have no doubt that’s in part due to her parents’ involvement in the process.

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Our intuition dovetails nicely with the information in a new book authored by Meghan Cox Gurdon titled The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, the subject of this morning’s (silent) reading at Starbucks on a stretch of Miami’s redeveloped Biscayne Boulevard.

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Ms. Gurdon has been the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer since 2005, and in her book she shares cutting edge research from the Cincinnati Children’s Reading and Literacy Discovery Center.  A synopsis of the information she cites from the CCR&LDC is contained in a wellness blog from Dr. Perri Klass who writes:

“Children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of brain areas in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This brain area is “a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” said the lead author, Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

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This region of the brain is known to be very active when older children read to themselves, but Dr. Hutton notes that it also lights up when younger children are hearing stories. What was especially novel was that children who were exposed to more books and home reading showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association, even though the child was in the scanner just listening to a story and could not see any pictures …

The different levels of brain activation, he said, suggest that children who have more practice in developing those visual images, as they look at picture books and listen to stories, may develop skills that will help them make images and stories out of words later on.”

Dr. John Hutton is not only a pediatrician and assistant professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but owner of an iconic children’s bookstore in the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati, The Blue Manatee.

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But alas, the bookstore was at risk of closing, with Dr. Hutton struggling to balance all of his commitments.  An article on cincinnati.com last month noted “For the past few years, I have tried to balance these things, to the detriment of my health and well-being, but I must finally accept that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, or neurotransmitters in my brain to do this in an effective or sustainable way.”  But good news to all those who are fans of reading aloud … it was announced on January 17 that the Blue Manatee has found a new owner and lives on!

2 thoughts on “Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

  1. So critical to get books into kids hands…learning basic concepts as top/bottom, right/left, then how books you read from top to bottom, left to right, alternation of R and L hands in motor control, finger dexterity of turning the page, etc………..AWESOME STUFF! Often taken for granted!

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