Replacing screen time with reading goes a long way towards helping kids succeed in school.

By Meghan Overdeep
January 17, 2020
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Parents and experts have long suspected that replacing screen time with good old-fashioned reading can have a positive effect on a young child’s brain development.  And now, thanks to shocking new imagery, the evidence is irrefutable.

Recent studies done by the Reading & Literacy Discovery Center of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital include brain scans of 47 healthy children between the ages of three and five who had not yet started kindergarten. What they show should have parents everywhere reaching for a book.

In examples shared by CNN, the brain of a preschooler who is often read to by a caregiver shows a growth in organized white matter in the language and literacy areas. The brain of a preschooler who spends an average of two hours a day playing on screens, however, shows massive underdevelopment of white matter in the same areas—areas needed to support learning in school.

White matter refers to the fibers that connect neurons. Lots of well-organized white matter is essential to the brain's processing speed. Children are born with all the neurons they need but die off when they’re not strengthened and reinforced. Stimulating activities like being read to help reinforce those connections.

"This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years," lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, explained to CNN. "Kids who have more stimulating experiences that organize the brain are at a huge advantage when they get to school. And it's really harder and harder for kids to catch up if they arrive behind."

The good news is, it doesn’t seem to matter what you read to your kids, just that you do it.

"What really seemed to drive the bus, at least based on this analysis, is just showing up and doing it—reading to your child on a regular basis," Hutton told CNN. "And, to me that takes a lot of pressure off parents to find the perfect book. Just keep reading in a loving and consistent way."