Talking Helps Reading

July 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

In Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain, I note that the brain is not pre-programmed to learn to read. I want to expand on that a bit today.
Humans are programmed to communicate. We are very social beings, even if some of us prefer to interact with a few people, and some prefer to interact with many people. The number of languages being used in the world today is astounding…all stemming from the need to explain our needs and thoughts to others. When humans are born, their hearing is the most advanced of all senses. We are already listening to the sounds around us, using sounds to make meaning out of the new world. Vision is way behind!

At the neuropsychology conference in San Diego that I attended earlier this year, a paper about what parts of the brain are used during reading was presented. [For reference, it was “Universal brain signature of proficient reading: Evidence from four contrasting languages,” written by J. Rueckl, P. Pas-Alonso, P. Molfese, and many others.]

The authors were interested in what parts of the brain were used during reading, and if that changed with different languages. They included brain scans from people reading Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Chinese. The scans were amazingly similar. In fact, the “similarities outweigh differences, especially with respect to print/speech integration.”

The individuals utilized the visual parts of their brains as well at the auditory areas in all four languages.

Why would people use auditory areas to read? Apparently, since language begins with listening and copying what others say to us, our auditory processing is physically integrated with our understanding of the printed word. That is likely one reason why phonics is so important for learning to read, and is associated with strong reading skills.

We need to train children to associate auditory information with the symbols they see. It might also be the reason that I find it difficult to read when music is playing. As a musician, the music I’m hearing takes precedence over my auditory association with the words I am reading.
The authors of the paper found that less skilled readers could be differentiated from skilled readers by “the degree of print/speech integration in key LH [left hemisphere] circuits.” They went on to conclude that early speech and motor deficits in children made them more vulnerable to reading disabilities later.

Conclusion: Talk to your children…a lot. Use words at their level, but also words that you might feel are too difficult for them. That will help them progress in auditory language, which could help them be better readers later.
A child’s own speech also is associated with their ability to read later.

Note: when doing research with humans, we can never say there is a causal relationship. We can’t say “this causes that” because humans are so complex, there is no way to make a clear cause. We can say, however, that people who did “this” had a statistically more common occurrence of “that.” It’s all about relationships!

So we can say that children who learned to talk later than their peers had a higher occurrence of reading problems later on. Tests that measured children’s receptive (incoming) language and those measuring expressive (outgoing) language were both associated with reading outcomes. Strong receptive and expressive language was associated with strong reading.

Parents were asked to rate their child as an early, on time, or late talker. Then the children were given a test for reading words accurately. (They did not have to know the meaning.) The early talkers scored highest, the on time group was in the middle, and the late talkers had the lowest scores. Keep in mind these were large groups of children. There are always exceptions, but as a group, the early talkers were also better readers.
What we can take from this is that parents need to talk to their children, even from a very early age. And they also need to take time to listen. That isn’t always easy because young children are not necessarily efficient communicators and parents are busy. But time spent listening, even if it doesn’t seem like the child is saying much, is extremely important. They are developing important skills. Grandparents can really help here!

If your children are older, don’t give up. Children are resilient, and it is not impossible to make up for lost time! Reading opens many doors for all folks who are lucky enough to have that ability. Give your kids or grandkids the keys!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Vacation is an opportunity for brain growth!

July 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

July 5, 2018

We’re just driving home from a week of camping in northwest Minnesota. For those of us who don’t like cross-country skiing or riding snow mobiles, summer is the best time for exploring northern Minnesota. But what amazed me is that so many communities—even a couple with fewer than 200 people—have city campgrounds. For the price of one night in a nice hotel, a family can stay for about a week in a city campground. Remember how the book (Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain) talks about providing stimulation for brain development? There’s plenty of it in small towns.

We stayed in Thief River Falls, but took time to also visit Warroad, Roseau, Baudette, Crookston, Red Lake Falls, and Grand Forks. I read two books and did several crossword puzzles. We stopped for a walk near the lake at Bemidji on the way home. We put our canoe on Lake of the Woods, but it was a really windy day, so we didn’t go too far. In Baudette, we fished in the Rainy River. It was really cool to know that the other side of the river was Canada. My husband caught many fish on the trip, but only when I wasn’t with him. Apparently, I’m bad luck, but he lets me go with him when I want to anyway.

The rivers provide opportunities to swim, fish, kayak, or canoe. There were families from the towns themselves who had brought kids to the parks for all of those activities. The kids were having a blast and there were no computers in sight. I am not saying that video games are horrible. But when children can use their imaginations and get exercise at the same time, that’s a really great thing! Both of those things stimulate brain growth, so together, they’re a double plus.

The Pioneer Village at Thief River Falls was interesting, but one thing that struck me was that it was started in 1938! Before World War II, before computers or cell phones, the community was interested in preserving the heritage of the area. It made me think that in less than 100 years, we will be the “old pioneer days” to future generations.

There are statues and historical markers that explain small bits of Native American history. What we white immigrants did to Native Americans was not pretty, but it’s important for our children to know what happened.

Many of the towns also had bike trails or walking trails. The ones in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks were truly lovely, and the two towns put on a big celebration for the fourth of July.

If you don’t want to pay for a hotel, try camping. If you don’t want to camp, try to get out for the day at least. There’s a lot out there, and your children will be richer for it.


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link: