Opinion Column

The science of reading

By Katelyn Schubert

When you hear the words ‘EEG’ and ‘MRI’ your mind probably doesn’t go to immediately to literacy.

These words are traditionally used in the medical field to describe tests done to measure our brain activity and waves. But science is now utilizing these tests in the book world to determine whether our book choices have anything to do with how we choose our reading material.

For most of us, the love of reading sparks at a young age. Literacy and storybooks are often associated with childhood, even before our school age occur. We have been aware of the importance of reading and literacy as babies and children for many years, but scientists are just beginning to take a step further to see if there are even more ways we can improve our brain function through reading.

It doesn’t take a scientist for us to use the internet to determine what books are bestsellers, but the downside is we may be less inclined to choose books for ourselves when this occurs. I myself admit to walking into a bookstore and immediately being drawn to the fancy displays set up by employees, or assuming a book is fabulous because it has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 49 weeks. But does this ‘convenience’ hinder our freewill? The short answer is yes and that is exactly what scientists are afraid of.

As we get older, it is easier to make choices for ourselves when it comes to what books are on our to-be-read lists or to not be afraid to tell your mother-in-law that you absolutely despised the book she recommended for you; but for children, it’s not as simple. There is a fear parents have that their children won’t be interested in reading, so we often choose the ‘safe choices’ for them. The studies currently being conducted at the University of Florida would claim otherwise. These studies prove that children will actually be stronger readers if they engage in ‘self-selection’.

But how do we as a society feel that there is so much research being done about a time-treasured tradition like reading? We do have to look at the influences of things like technology (it is 2018 after all). Some parents feel children are being less inclined to pick up a book when there is the option of an iPad, so in that sense these studies can certainly help with the struggle of getting their child on the right track when it comes to literacy.

Using EEGs and MRIs can show researchers things like where specifically on the page a baby looks and how their brain waves change with the development of the story. As much as this sounds fascinating, don’t feel pressured when you go into a library or bookstore looking for something that will please your child. The point should be to make books a part of your every-day routine and hopefully, this tradition will stick with the child for many years to come. After all, it has worked in the past!

There are thousands of books to choose from at the Petawawa Public Library. No scientific studies required!

Katelyn Schubert is the children and teen services librarian at the Petawawa Public Library 

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