The Brainy Benefits of Bedtime Stories

The Brainy Benefits of Bedtime Stories, p.2

"To break down unknown words into pieces, you have to first know the pieces," Dr. Lyon explains. "When kids hear the word cat, for example, they usually hear it folded up as one sound (cat) instead of three (c-a-t)," he says. "But when asked to say cat without the c, thus deleting the cuh sound to make at, they'll more easily understand that words are made up of individual sounds." Reading rhyming books to kids is one way to help them practice this skill.

Building an Inner Dictionary
To enhance a child's language skills even more, parents can use storytime as a stepping stone for conversation, says Lise Eliot, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Chicago Medical School and author of What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. For instance, if a mother points to Curious George's baseball cap and asks her child, "Do you have a hat like that?" she's offering him practice in using language correctly.

However, Dr. Eliot cautions parents not to continually correct their child's speech errors. "My own toddler is always saying him's, as in 'That's him's hat,'" she says. "But I don't say, 'No, you should say his hat,' because I don't want to discourage him. Instead I just model the proper speech by repeating his sentence correctly: 'Yes! It is his hat!'"

In time, reading with a child will expand her vocabulary even more than just talking with her will. That's because books can introduce kids to ideas and objects -- such as porridge or kangaroos -- that are out of their direct environment and therefore not a part of their daily conversation. Look for stories that contain particularly rich or colorful language, like the works of Caldecott-winner William Steig, who often drops four-star words such as discombobulated and sinuous into his books.

"One More Time!"
This phrase is known far and wide to be a child's transparent effort to delay bedtime. But what kids -- and parents -- may not know is that reading a book repeatedly can help a child develop his logic skills.

The first time children hear a book, they don't catch everything, says Virginia Walter, Ph.D., associate professor in the graduate school of education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. But as they hear it again and again, they start to notice patterns and sequences, realizing that if one page says, "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" the next page will tell brown bear's response: "I see a red bird looking at me."

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