Grandparents help grandkids succeed
by providing summer books, reading to the youngest
Key to providing free books is let
the kids choose them; MRI proves success of reading to the preschoolers
25, 2015 Want to be a better grandparent? Who doesnt? Here are a
couple of ideas being presented today that can put you at the top of the
class. Giving your school age grandchildren books as school ends for the
summer can help them avoid the summer slide. And, if you go the extra
mile and read to the youngest ones, new research says you will enhance
their reading skills.
Both studies are being presented
today at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San
Give them books and they will
It's common knowledge among
teachers that when students return to school after the long summer
break, they likely will have lost some academic ground. They call it the
"Reading proficiency is a critical
skill and an important determinant of health. However, many students,
particularly low-income students, struggle," said lead researcher Erin
Kelly, M.D., a fourth-year medicine-pediatrics resident at the
University of Rochester in New York.
An intervention at high-poverty
elementary schools in Florida dramatically improved reading achievement
by providing students with a collection of self-selected books at the
end of each school year. Dr. Kelly aimed to improve literacy among
low-income Rochester City School students by replicating the Florida
Researchers initiated a pilot
project in 2013, holding a book fair for a class of 18 second-graders at
the end of the school year. Students could choose 13 free books at the
fair. Another second-grade class of 20 students served as a control
group, receiving a few books mailed to them over the summer by a
community group based on their grade and reading level. All students had
reading assessments in the spring and following fall.
Results showed statistically
significant improvements in reading scores
among students in the intervention group but no change in scores among
the control group.
In 2014, the project was expanded
to four classes of kindergarten through second-graders. Each student
could load up a backpack with 15 free books at the end of the school
year. Students in other classes served as controls. Due to ethical
considerations given the success of the pilot program, control students
also were able to choose a few of the books they received.
Results showed no significant
difference in the two groups' reading scores, with more than 75 percent
of students maintaining or improving their reading, compared to an
average summer learning loss of up to three months seen among low-income
students in prior studies.
"This simple intervention allowing
students to choose their own books at end of the school year had a
significant positive impact," Dr. Kelly said. She noted that even the
control group made reading gains, suggesting that receiving some books,
even if students don't pick all of them out, may stem the summer slide.
"A multifaceted approach is needed to address poor child literacy
rates," she concluded, "but this intervention can be part of the
Read to children for brain
development, better reading skills
Most parents and grandparents have
probably assumed that reading to small children will help their language
development and inspire them to become successful readers.
Now there is evidence that reading
to young children is associated with differences in brain activity
supporting early reading skills.
"We are excited to show, for the
first time, that reading exposure during the critical stage of
development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable
impact on how a child's brain processes stories and may help predict
reading success," said study author John Hutton, MD, National Research
Service Award Fellow, Division of General and Community Pediatrics,
Reading and Literacy Discovery Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital
"Of particular importance are brain
areas supporting mental imagery, helping the child 'see the story'
beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination."
Professional organizations such as
the American Academy of Pediatrics and advocacy groups have encouraged
parents to read to their children from birth to foster early learning
and create connections in the brain that promote language development.
Direct evidence of effects on the brain, however, were not previously
To show whether reading to
preschoolers affects brain networks that support reading skills, Dr.
Hutton and his colleagues studied 19 healthy preschoolers ages 3-5 years
old, 37 percent of whom were from low-income households.
Each child's primary caregiver
completed a questionnaire designed to measure cognitive stimulation in
the home. The questionnaire looked at three areas: parent-child reading,
including access to books, frequency of reading and variety of books
read; parent-child interaction, including talking and playing; and
whether parents taught specific skills such as counting and shapes.
The children then underwent
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measured brain
activity while they were listening to age-appropriate stories via
headphones. The children were awake and non-sedated during fMRI, and
there was no visual stimulus. Researchers were interested in whether
there would be differences in brain activation supporting comprehension
of the stories in areas known to be involved with language.
Results showed that greater home
reading exposure was strongly associated with activation of specific
brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning
from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for
Brain areas supporting mental
imagery showed particularly strong activation, suggesting that
visualization plays a key role in narrative comprehension and reading
readiness, allowing children to "see" the story. "This becomes
increasingly important as children advance from books with pictures to
books without them, where they must imagine what is going on in the
text," Dr. Hutton said.
The associations between home
reading exposure and brain activity remained robust after controlling
for household income.
"We hope that this work will guide
further research on shared reading and the developing brain to help
improve interventions and identify children at risk for difficulties as
early as possible, increasing the chances that they will be successful
in the wonderful world of books," Dr. Hutton concluded.
The Pediatric Academic Societies
(PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the
PAS Annual Meeting - the American Pediatric Society, the Society for
Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American
Academy of Pediatrics.
Members of these organizations are
pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the
research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring
organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and
child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of
fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more
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