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更新时间:2015-8-24 10:01:43 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Bedtime Stories for Young Brains

A little more than a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth.

一年多以前,美国儿科学会(American Academy of Pediatrics)发布了一份政策声明,建议所有的儿科初级护理应包括促进读写能力的内容,从婴儿出生时开始。

That means pediatricians taking care of infants and toddlers should routinely be advising parents about how important it is to read to even very young children. The policy statement, which I wrote with Dr. Pamela C. High, included a review of the extensive research on the links between growing up with books and reading aloud, and later language development and school success.

这意味着,照料婴幼儿的儿科医师应该习惯性地告诉家长,给孩子朗读十分重要,就连襁褓中的孩子也不例外。这份政策声明由帕梅拉·C·海伊博士(Pamela C. High)和本人合作撰写,综合了诸多研究成果,其中探讨的都是婴幼儿成长过程中书本和大声诵读行为的伴随与后来的语言能力和学业成就之间的联系。

But while we know that reading to a young child is associated with good outcomes, there is only limited understanding of what the mechanism might be. Two new studies examine the unexpectedly complex interactions that happen when you put a small child on your lap and open a picture book.


This month, the journal Pediatrics published a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in 3-to 5-year-old children as they listened to age-appropriate stories. The researchers found differences in brain activation according to how much the children had been read to at home.


Children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of brain areas in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This brain area is “a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” said the lead author, Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

如果家长表示更多地在家读书及家中书本较多,那么孩童左脑的一个名为“顶、颞和枕叶皮层联合区”的地方就会显示出大得多的活跃度。文章的第一作者约翰·S·赫顿博士(John S. Hutton)是辛辛那提儿童医院医疗中心(Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center)的临床研究员。他表示,这片大脑区域“是个分水岭区域,与多感官的整合有关,会整合声音,然后是视觉刺激。”

This region of the brain is known to be very active when older children read to themselves, but Dr. Hutton notes that it also lights up when younger children are hearing stories. What was especially novel was that children who were exposed to more books and home reading showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association, even though the child was in the scanner just listening to a story and could not see any pictures.


“When kids are hearing stories, they’re imagining in their mind’s eye when they hear the story,” said Dr. Hutton. “For example, ‘The frog jumped over the log.’ I’ve seen a frog before, I’ve seen a log before, what does that look like?”


The different levels of brain activation, he said, suggest that children who have more practice in developing those visual images, as they look at picture books and listen to stories, may develop skills that will help them make images and stories out of words later on.


“It helps them understand what things look like, and may help them transition to books without pictures,” he said. “It will help them later be better readers because they’ve developed that part of the brain that helps them see what is going on in the story.”


Dr. Hutton speculated that the book may also be stimulating creativity in a way that cartoons and other screen-related entertainments may not.


“When we show them a video of a story, do we short circuit that process a little?” he asked. “Are we taking that job away from them? They’re not having to imagine the story; it’s just being fed to them.”

“当我们透过视频向孩子叙述故事的时候,我们是否走了捷径,把那个过程稍微缩短了呢? ”他反问道。“我们是否在夺走他们该做的事?他们不用自己想象故事内容了,因为故事已经堆到了他们面前。”

We know that it is important that young children hear language, and that they need to hear it from people, not from screens. Unfortunately, there are serious disparities in how much language children hear — most famously demonstrated in a Kansas study that found poor children heard millions fewer words by age 3.


But it turns out that reading to — and with — young children may amplify the language they hear more than just talking. In August, Psychological Science reported on researchers who studied the language content of picture books. They put together a selection from teacher recommendations, Amazon best sellers, and other books that parents are likely to be reading at bedtime.

然而,事实证明,比起单纯的说话,向幼儿朗读和跟他们一块儿阅读或许更能增加他们听到的语言的丰富性。在今年8月,《心理科学》(Psychological Science)刊登了一项关于绘本的文字内容的研究。研究人员挑选出教师推荐、亚马逊畅销书和家长可能会在睡前读给孩子听的一系列绘本,并把这些书一并研究。

In comparing the language in books to the language used by parents talking to their children, the researchers found that the picture books contained more “unique word types.”


“Books contain a more diverse set of words than child-directed speech,” said the lead author, Jessica Montag, an assistant research psychologist at the University of California, Riverside. “This would suggest that children who are being read to by caregivers are hearing vocabulary words that kids who are not being read to are probably not hearing.”

“比起儿向言语,绘本的字词组合更多元化,”这篇研究论文的第一作者杰西卡·蒙塔格(Jessica Montag)说。她是加州大学河滨分校(University of California, Riverside)的心理学助理研究员。“这可能说明,那些由监护人向他们朗读绘本的孩子,能听到其他孩子大概没听过的词汇。“

So reading picture books with young children may mean that they hear more words, while at the same time, their brains practice creating the images associated with those words — and with the more complex sentences and rhymes that make up even simple stories.


I have spent a great deal of my career working with Reach Out and Read, which works through medical providers to encourage parents to enjoy books with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers. This year, our 5,600 program sites will give away 6.8 million books (including many to children in poverty), along with guidance to more than 4.5 million children and their parents. (The group also provided some support to Dr. Hutton’s research.)

在本人的职业生涯中,我花了很多时间与“幼儿阅读推广计划” (Reach Out and Read)合作。这是一个通过医疗机构鼓励家长与幼儿享受阅读乐趣的项目。今年,我们的5600个项目实行地将会送出680万本书(其中很多会送给贫困儿童),这些地点亦会给予超过450万个孩子和父母指导。(这一计划还为赫顿的研究提供了一些支援。)

Studies of Reach Out and Read show that participating parents read more and children’s preschool vocabularies improve when parents read more. But even as someone who is already one of the choir, I am fascinated by the ways that new research is teasing out the complexity and the underlying mechanisms of something which can seem easy, natural and, well, simple. When we bring books and reading into checkups, we help parents interact with their children and help children learn.


“I think that we’ve learned that early reading is more than just a nice thing to do with kids,” Dr. Hutton said. “It really does have a very important role to play in building brain networks that will serve children long-term as they transition from verbal to reading.”


And as every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual. It’s what makes toddlers demand the same story over and over again, and it’s the reason parents tear up (especially those of us with adult children) when we occasionally happen across a long-ago bedtime book.