Storytelling options & brain activity — new research

Today we examine the storytelling question.

If you had a 3-5-year old and he wanted to hear a story, which do you think would be best for him?

  • Putting on an audio tape,
  • letting him watch it on a screen, or
  • giving him a digital book to look at, with a recording that reads the words at the same time?

According to a recent study, it’s the last one that does the most for brain building. As Dr. John Hutton from the University of Cincinnati explains, that is true even without the added benefits that come from being read to while interacting with a loving parent.

Storytelling: examining the evidence

From his data, he wonders whether crucial brain development opportunities are missed if most stories come through animated viewing, and therefore children don’t get the practice they need to build certain critical neural networks.

The study was small and more research will be needed, but the preliminary findings were newsworthy because the study measured what was happening in children’s brains rather than later literacy results. Each child taking part was in an FMRI machine during the storytelling, so the scientists could look closely at what was happening in the brain and identify brain activity patterns for each method of presenting the story.

Hutton is interested in emergent literacy, and was eager to start unpacking how children respond to literacy learning through electronic devices, versus the traditional shared book reading that has been well studied for years. It makes sense to learn what the science says given how available screens are for young children and how little we know so far.

For more information, check out the article written this week in nprEd.

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