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Fiction Good For Brains

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 we have learned that fiction actually stimulates the brain. A recent New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul notes that neuroscientists using brain scans have shown that narratives stimulate the brain in more 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 is strong like “leathery hands” or “a velvet voice.” And words that describe motion stimulate the motor cortex in the appropriate place of the word “arm” or “leg” that was read.

Fiction provides us with a simulation of reality. Fiction provides numerous 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 demonstrate more of the human characteristic of empathy and understanding others. Not surprising that 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 teaches me about life. And helps me figure out how to live my own 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 start teaching 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 young baby understand? No but the baby quickly learns the sound of your voice and realizes that talk is something people do and inanimate objects don’t. (I hate toys that make noise so don’t write to tell me your child’s Elmo talks even though it 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 we all have within us 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 what your truck would say if it could talk?”

Still later tell them that when they learn to write they will be able to write their own stories. The ask them to tell you a story that you will write down. Don’t forget to send a copy to Grandma and Grandpa!

Children have always enjoyed listening to stories, first the tales told around the fire and, after written language developed, the stories from books. Parents love the special closeness that arises from the combination of a child, a book, and a lap. Isn’t it wonderful tnews hat stories are good for our brains!