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Fiction and Stories

From the time I was a small child I loved stories. I was an early and avid reader and to this day am a devotee of “good” fiction. (Don‘t care much for junk fiction.)

All children love being read to. And fiction actually stimulates the brain. A recent New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul tells about neuroscience studies using brain scans that show narratives can stimulate the brain in more areas than the language processing areas.

One study showed that when words for coffee or perfume were read by the subject the olfactory area of the brain lit up. Even metaphors can register in the brain provided the metaphor was strong like “leathery hands” or “a velvet voice.” And words that describe motion stimulate the motor cortex in the appropriate place of the words read like arm or leg.

It seems (and I have always known this) that fiction gives us a simulation of reality. Fiction provides details about lives as well as vivid descriptions of people and places. A good novel can go beyond reality; it can take us into the minds of other people. When I was a girl I felt I “knew” Jane Eyre and Jo March of “Little Women.”

Fiction readers seem to have higher levels of that important human characteristic: understanding others and having empathy for others. And the more stories read to preschoolers the better they are able to figure out what others are thinking and feeling.

A friend once told me he doesn’t have time to read fiction as he is too busy learning about the world through non-fiction. True, non-fiction can teach us a lot about the world. But fiction has always taught me about life. And helped me figure out how to live my life.

Parents today are pretty savvy about the importance of reading to children from an early age. You do not have to hold a book in your hands to teach a newborn about words. Talk up a storm when you are with the baby. Make up rhymes, tell the baby what you are doing, sing songs, name objects. Does a newborn understand? No but the baby learns very quickly the sound of your voice and that talk is what people do and inanimate objects don’t. (I hate toys that make noises so don’t tell me your child’s Elmo talks though he is an object.)

When you start reading, be enthusiastic and use an animated voice with lots of exaggeration and emphasis. You will be amazed at how attentive the baby will be when you do this.

Do more than read, Tell your children about your favorite childhood books. Make up stories to teach your children about the imagination they have within themselves and how much fun it is to make up stories.

When your children are old enough to do so, suggest they make up their own stories. “Tell me about your truck. What would the truck say if it could talk?”

Still later help them learn to write the story down by asking them to tell you a story that you will write down. And send it to Grandma and Grandpa.

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