New brain research shows it’s about talking with kids, not talking to kids

For decades, the evidence and the guidance about raising strong readers was all about increasing the quantity of talk in households—the amount of talk between parents and children. But over the last ten years or so, new research methods and larger studies have painted a different picture on talking with kids —that actually the quality of talk is more important than the quantity. 

Talking with kids: what does the evidence show?

Of course you need a little quantity to get to quality, but in these studies all roads point to the chance for back-and-forth conversations, especially ones that start with open-ended questions and give children a chance to take their own turns in the conversations. This turn-taking with talk creates the kind of quality interactions that help children develop their language, their thinking, and their later reading skills.

Today, really exciting and promising research shows that not only do these back-and-forth conversations matter for children’s language and reading development, they actually affect children’s brain development. In a study with 4 to 6 year-olds, a team of researchers at MIT found that the more often parents engaged in back-and-forth conversation with their child, the stronger the child’s brain activation in the region of the brain associated with language development. And as we know, children with more advanced language skills are more likely to become strong readers.

By focusing on children’s opportunities for conversations with parents and investigating children’s brain activation together in one study, this signals a new era for research on children’s path to strong reading.

Read a report of the study here.

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