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How stories make children brainy

More and more adults are beginning to wake up to what a difference they can make in children’s lives when they read stories to them. They are offering them brain food!

Great stories weave magic. When we read a story in which the character suffers pain or hardship, our hearts beat as fast as when we listen to our real friends and family talking about something that is painful for them. We feel the story characters’ pain and their glory. And we now know from research why this is.

We have known for some time that stories feed the language parts of our brains. But now, brain scans can show how stories stimulate many other parts of our brains too. For example, brain areas dealing with smell come alive when we read words that are linked to particular smells, like “jasmine” or “petrol”. In laboratories, scientists have also seen what happens when we read phrases that describe different textures, such as, “his leathery hands” and “her velvet voice” – the part of our brain that allows us to experience touch lights up!

All of this suggests that our brains do not see any difference between our reading about an experience and us actually having it. Our basic brain functions can’t tell the difference between a real event and one in a story! This means that the worlds that we read about in stories allow us to experience so much more than we ever could experience in our own lives.

With stories, we weigh up our values and think about what our actions would be if we were in the shoes of others. When we grow up with the great stories from here and around the world, it helps us to be stronger when we are afraid or in danger, because we have the decisions and actions of inspiring story characters and heroes to draw on.

Reading aloud to children will not magically rocket them to the top of the school ladder. But, there is a lot of research that shows that reading aloud to them will help them to develop excellent memories and vocabularies, to think critically and logically, and will help their comprehension skills to soar.