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Kids are always listening

Over the last 100,000 years, the speech pathways have become hardwired into our brains, but reading pathways aren’t. Four separate networks bridge together through pathways to create the reading network. We, as parents, have the most significant opportunity to help build stronger and deeper networks and pathways through reading aloud. We can actually alter and improve the architecture of our child’s brain.

Blog | Kids are always listening

Like a house, our brains need a solid foundation

Like a house, our brains need a solid foundation that will effectively impact all future learning and behaviour. This isn’t to say you can’t do a knock-down rebuild later in life, but the earlier you start a proper foundation, the better and easier your child’s future will be. And really, that’s ultimately what we want for our kids.

A lot of this information will be about the brains of very young children but reading aloud is still incredibly important for older kids as well. Did you know that the human brain does not fully develop until 25 years old? The frontal cortex is the last bit of our brains to mature, and it’s the area responsible for memory, emotions, impulse control, problem-solving, social interaction, and motor function.

So, teenagers’ immature frontal cortex thoroughly explains why they drive their parents crazy… or at least that is what I’m told. Teenagers are more adventurous, heroic, and risk-taking; their highs are higher, and their lows are lower. This is how teenagers can fall deeply in love in 10 minutes and be truly heartbroken after a week-long relationship. Moreover, it seems like utter nonsense to us. 

On the positive side, because this area is the last part to develop, it is the bit of the brain that is most affected by their environment and experiences. So, if you haven’t read to your kids since they were in primary, it is still not too late to start strengthening their reading pathways through reading aloud. Their adventure levels, openness, experiences, and influences up until 25, will shape who they are when they’re 60.

There are four networks

There are four networks in everyone’s brain that are used for reading; language, vision, executive function, and attention. In the beginning, these 4 networks are totally separate. We have to build up those networks individually first, that strong foundation I mentioned before, so they can combine and create new pathways enabling our kids to make the giant leap to reading on their own.

The image that always comes into my head is the flux capacitor from “Back to the Future”. That gizmo Dr Brown invents, which makes time travel possible, with the three like LED strips looking bits which all connect in the middle. That’s what I think of when I think of brain pathways. 

Our language network is the most important one to develop first. One of the most common sources of reading difficulties is just underdeveloped language skills, and this tends to happen most often in kids that have less exposure to books. In the Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease writes, “there are really only two efficient ways to get words into a person’s brain: either by seeing them or by hearing them. Since it will be years before a child uses his or her eyes for actual reading, the best source for building the language network is the ear. What we send into that ear becomes the foundation for the child’s “brain house.””

The language network is broken up into 4 sections itself; listening, speaking, reading, and writing. And they happen in that order. You can’t be writing before your reading or speaking before you listen. So we all start with listening, which turns into speaking, and with those, we create new pathways branching out for reading and writing. 

They are always listening

The best way to explain this next bit was brilliantly crafted by Jim Trelease, where he describes each network as a bucket having limited capacity, which I mentioned in my previous blog. So let’s say the listening bucket only holds a cup of listening space. Luckily enough for parents, babies are listening… all the time! 

When my eldest was 2 years old, he used a very colourful word… well, let’s just say it rhythms with spit. After my initial mixed reaction of shock and laughter, I said to my hubby, “where did he hear that from?” My hubby looked at me puzzled, and he said, “you”. What? Me?!? 

Oh, spit! He said that I say it far more often than I think I do. It must be a habit… gotta watch that one! So wait, where was I? Oh yeah, they are always listening.

They listen to us talking to them, they listen to our conversations with others, and they listen when we read stories. When you speak or read to a child, you’re putting all the bits and pieces into the child’s ears that create the foundations of their listening and language networks. All of the sounds, syllables, endings, and blendings that will make up the words they will one day use to read on their own.

So if you haven’t guessed it, reading aloud is so ridiculously important in filling their listening network. It’s massively important in all stages of growing up because when they are older, we still need to be filling their language networks. We need to continue to add more complex and descriptive words because they aren’t getting them from everyday conversation, TV, or definitely not social media. 

Once a child has hit the limit of their listening bucket, that knowledge starts to overflow into their speaking bucket, then one day will overflow into their reading, then into their writing. So we have to fill up each of these buckets or networks as best we can so the following network starts out solid.

Read Learn Love Tip!

Did you know that most TV shows are written at a 13-year-old reading level? Once your child is beyond picture books, which is usually around 7 and 8 years old, choose read-aloud books above their reading level. This is the best and possibly the only way to increase their vocabulary and encourage a love of learning. If you come across a word that you think your kiddo might not know, you should always take the time to ask them and explain it to them, so they know the meaning and the context. I can’t remember where I heard the phrase, but it works perfectly here, “You can’t get out what you don’t put in”. 

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