Tuesday 1 December 2015

Why Reading Picture Books Matters - by Natascha Biebow

The brains of three to five year-olds do something really important when they read a picture book:

Their neurons do a kind of brain gym that develops their ability to experience things from other people’s perspectives – or empathise.

This is because, at this age, children are acquiring a theory-of-mind – an understanding that other people have thoughts, beliefs, and desires that may be different from their own.
Dr. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, says, “Around the same ages, children also begin to understand what characters in stories are feeling and thinking.”

Theory-of-mind tests include testing if a child is able to understand that someone may prefer broccoli over a cookie:

and how that is unique from their own desire for the cookie.

In 2010, Mar and his colleagues found that:

Mar and his colleagues also found that parents who were able to recognize children’s authors and book titles predicted their child’s performance on theory-of-mind tests. Parental recognition of adult book titles or authors had no effect on their child’s performance — the result was very specific to children’s books.

“There are aspects of joint-reading between parents and children that seem to be important to the process,” Mar said. 

This may be because when they read books together with their children, adults discuss how the characters are feeling, perhaps more so than at other times in daily life.

Researchers have also shown that children who watch a lot of TV, as opposed to reading storybooks, have a weaker understanding of other people's beliefs and desires, a lesser ability to be compassionate and reduced cognitive development.  

SO reading picture books and stories provides a means to muscle up children’s empathy network. Studies have also shown this is true for teens and adults, too.  

If we don’t use it, we could lose it . . .

In these troubled times, a world with empathy is the world I want for my children. 

Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.  Check out my small-group coaching Cook Up a Picture Book courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.  www.blueelephantstoryshaping.com


Moira Butterfield said...

Wow! This is a fantastic reason to read, applicable to us all. It's a reason to ensure that all children have access to books, whatever their circumstances.

Abie Longstaff said...

Thanks - this is fascinating! :)

Natascha Biebow said...

Thanks, Moira! There's lots of research out there - really fascinating stuff.

Natascha Biebow said...

Glad you liked it, Abie!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this. I could never claim I intuitively knew this, but it sort of rang a bell - and straight away made perfect sense to me. I'd also have to admit that I had a less altruistic reason to read to my kids from an early age - I loved the stories myself.

Geoff Barker, aged 5+

Paeony Lewis said...

Interesting, Natascha. Long ago I postulated that one reason the 'men' I knew were sometimes not as empathic as 'women' was because they read less fiction. They didn't experience the world through the eyes and emotions of others. I know this is a generalisation, but perhaps it fits with the research.

Anna McQuinn - Chief, Cook and Bottle washer said...

This is so true - and pic books importantly have also been show to develop empathy for people of other races - vital if we are to build a better world for the future: http://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/how-cross-racial-scenes-in-picture-books-build-acceptance/#_

Allen jeley said...

Such a great article its tell us great info about picture book and why child should read English book thanks for sharing honours research .