Ruth’s Reflections #2 - Building a Brain House
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
Richard C. Anderson, “Becoming a Nation of Readers”
It is a very rare child who becomes a reader, who wasn’t read to by someone special in early life. How can something so simple as reading aloud to a child be so effective?
Let’s start with the brain.
As cement and lumber are the primary supports for building a house, words are the primary structure for learning. There are only two effective ways to get words into a person’s brain: either through the eye or through the ear. What we send into the ear becomes the “sound” foundation for the rest of the child’s “brain house”.
- Conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure.
- Creates background knowledge.
- Builds vocabulary.
- Provides a reading role model.
In Cushla and Her Books author Dorothy Butler described how Cushla Yeoman’s parents began reading aloud to her when she was four months old. By nine months, she was able to respond to the sight of certain books and convey to her parents that these were her favorites. By age five, she had taught herself to read.
What makes Cushla’s story so dramatic is that she was born with chromosome damage that caused deformities of the spleen, kidney, and mouth cavity. It also produced muscle spasm which prevented her from sleeping more than two hours a night or from holding anything in her hand until she was three years old. She also had lazy vision beyond her fingertips.
Until she was three, the doctors diagnosed Cushla as “mentally and physically retarded” and recommended that she be institutionalized. Her parents, after seeing her early responses to books, refused; instead, they put her on a dose of fourteen read-aloud books a day. By age five, Cushla was found to be well above average in intelligence, and a socially well-adjusted child.
It’s not the toys in the house that make the difference in children’s lives; it’s the words in their heads.
The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words.
Keep up the fantastic job you are doing in building children’s “brain houses”.