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What's Going on in Your Child's Brain When You Read Them a Story? (npr.org)
308 points by devy on May 25, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments



All three versions came from the Web site of Canadian author Robert Munsch.

Hearing Robert Munsch read his own stories can be a revelation. He puts so much energy into the reading, in a way that kids seem to really enjoy. He also often deviates from the published text. Listening to him made me willing to take a lot more risks as a reader.

I read "Paper Bag Princess" to my daughter's kindergarten class, and then played them Munsch's rendition [0]. Whenever I go back, the kids ask if they can hear an author reading their own book.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIPrb-sA6Uo


> He also often deviates from the published text.

I'm so glad to hear that! Especially with books I've read them many times, I'm going to get bored if I don't start taking liberties with the text.


There's a hilarious trick you can pull off. Insert references and made-up characters into stories you read. I got the idea from an audiobook, which described someone who kept inserting "spotted female mule" into stories he read. See what's the most outrageous but harmless change you can get away with.


> See what's the most outrageous but harmless change you can get away with.

I don’t think I could keep a straight face for more than a couple of minutes at most if I tried to insert my own ideas into a story XD


At least you do have a sense of humor. I know too many people who don't smile, and definitely don't laugh out loud.


I do :) and sorry to hear about those people. Hopefully they laugh and smile sometimes, just you haven’t seen it.


One thing I've noticed as a trend in children's books lately is that a lot of them are "novelizations" of single episodes of cartoons. For example, you can find a bunch of Star Wars Clone Wars books, and it turns out each book is an episode in the series.

I discovered this because we got my kid the books first, which I read to her a bunch of times, and then one day we sat down to watch the show together, which I'd actually never seen, and realized that the first two episodes I'd already read to her as books.

What was really cool though was that she had a much deeper understanding of those first couple episodes than the subsequent episodes, and actually preferred the books to the show.

Anyway, my whole point is that my single point of data seems to support this research -- that she processed better when read to.


I read the book editions of the first 3 Star Wars Movie (the Luke ones) and did not see the movies for years. This was in the nineties.


This corroborates my hypothesis for why the majority of book readers like their books better than visual renditions of the same (HP, LOTR, etc), because they use their imagination to construct the world and characters and voices when reading, and thus find a more appealing interpretation for every aspect of the story, whereas a directed audio-visual experience is unlikely to match my impression as well.

For example, if I'm a PoC I'm likely to see some of the characters as PoC as well even if they're not explicitly described so. So many other things like "what do these dragons look like" and "how tall is this character relative to others" etc. Because we were actively involved in creating the world, we'd be more attached to it too.


This is so true! I am rarely impressed by movie versions of my favorite books.

On a related note, I have been reading Judea Pearl's new book, "The book of Why" (truly wonderful book incidentally). I think that stories must, in some way, help us learn counterfactual reasoning. That is, help us create alternate versions of reality to conduct "what if" experiments in our mind.


This is usually true and I arrived at it independently, but I also think sometimes another person's visualization is more impressive than yours. Watching a movie of a book you like can be fun, just don't get your hopes too high.


I'm aphantasic and still prefer books, in part because they provide the motivations, thoughts and plans of characters, along with other not-easily-visually-portrayed elements.


Pediatricians I know can basically immediately tell the difference between a kid raised by the TV/phone and one primarily read/spoken to. Obvious differences in verbal ability.


So can teachers. It's not as if the high performers in English class spent hours deliberately practicing grammar and vocabulary.


That’s pretty crazy considering smart phones have become ubiquitous relatively recently.

I like to think my kids enjoy devices and digital stimuli in moderations, and do try to read to them often, but I wish there was a decent way of checking their development.


Not a parent so I'm not familiar with working with the constraints, but something a friend of mine raising kids champions: limit digital interaction to "activity, creation and expression", and use other media for consumption. So let them doodle, play puzzle games, write stuff/create music/etc, but don't give them free access to youtube videos, cartoons, etc. When they want to consume something, prefer offline stuff.


> That’s pretty crazy considering smart phones have become ubiquitous relatively recently.

They’ve been a thing for 8-10 years, and the window for kids to be influenced this way is only a couple of years, so we’ve had several cohorts of kids grow from 1-4 in the smartphone era.


Why are you lumping in TV with phone? TV has far more verbal aspect than most thing one does on a phone (except YouTube)


Back-and-forth interactions are more important to language development than passive input. Both TV and phones do not provide the interaction that builds verbal skills.


Here's a link to the text only version: https://text.npr.org/s.php?sId=611609366


Got a version with pictures?


I prefer the version which enables the publisher to pay for his cost.


I prefer the other one where they do so without farming my personal data.


Can you explain how they "do so".


If they didn't they wouldn't need to worry about GDPR.


False. GDPR is broad. Anyone running a non-trivial website needs to invest a non-trivial amount of time and energy into ensuring compliance.


Both versions are hosted on NPR.org.


NPR is public "Radio", funded primarily by donations.


When they're serving a pure text version, it costs them next to nothing.


How does serving a text version change the cost of creating the content?


Why should a company be endlessly rewarded because an author wrote a popular article? Writing an article is a one-time affair.


I wish the whole web looked like that!


Anyone who's interested in this might find the field of cognitive narratology interesting as well, he's a nice resource: http://wikis.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php/Cognitive_Narr...


I'm pretty sure that what goes on in my 9-month-old's brain when I read him a story is: "Mmmmmm, that book looks delicious."


OT: Teach him sign language and he can tell you he wants to eat the book long before he can vocally do the same! I recommend starting at 6 months.


It's also useful even after they learn to talk, because you're still gonna have a hard time understanding them until they're well into their second year.

Signs my kid has learned and used, without a lot of prompting from us: "All done" "Please" (also means 'yes' -- "Do you want jelly?" "please") "help" "water" "milk" "food"


Absolutely, my primary motivation initially was to enable our first to tell us when he needed the potty [I'm a kook, we start potty from 5-6 months], though initially for the first it was mostly telling us he wanted milk/food or saw a light/bird.

We read a lot, and always do sign and speech together. Eldest is in Secondary School (UK) now; if it retarded his speech/language skills as some claim it might then it didn't matter because he and middle child are highly literate (several years advanced in reading age).

Mum, Dad (none of my kids bothered with that sign much), food, drink, milk (both kinds), sleep, tired, hungry, more, finished .. all useful starter words.

From 2+ we start faltering with signed vocab so sign (a modified and simplified BSL somewhat of our own) tends to naturally give way to speech -- I mean what's the sign for gazelle, or pneumatic drill, or to say "it tastes bad" rather than just that they "don't like" whatever new food we're trying to get them to try ...


Dad of a 1 year old here.

How do you start potty at 6 months?

And how do you go about teaching signs?


https://www.parentingscience.com/potty-training-age.html

>Infant potty training: 0-12 months

>It sounds bizarre to many Westerners. But for parents in places like India, China, and East Africa (deVries and deVries 1977; Boucke 2002), the traditional potty training age is early infancy. In these societies, parents learn to recognize their babies’ body signals and to use these signals to anticipate when their babies eliminate.

>When the infant is ready to go, the parent holds him over a sink, bowl, toilet, or the open ground. As the infant voids, the parent makes a characteristic sound or gesture. The baby learns to associate this parental sign with voiding, and, eventually, the parental sign becomes an invitation to void. When the baby feels the urge to go, he learns to hold back for a brief time until his parent gives him the “all clear."


Works the same in dogs


Primarily in my "system" (!) the idea was to offer the potty at nappy changing times, first thing in morning, after nap, before bed etc. - using sign and vocal prompts (that idea is used in Elimination Communication) - and go crazy over-the-top with praise for anything they do in the potty (but not lying, at 2 youngest is like "big wee" when there's only a spot, because he wants to please; "good try!", Always applaud trying!). At 6mo of age you have to hold them up. But my reasoning was habituation, familiarity, and just reduction in messy nappies.

First child was in terry-nappies, and compostables at night. Latest toddler is in compostables all the time -- terry definitely seem (on my low-number study) to help associate weeing and the feeling of it starting. Nappy free time in the garden or at the beach will help them associate the feeling with the actions too.

Sign, we knew some BSL so started with simplified versions of signs (removed all hand shapes, so Mum is a flat hand on side of head rather than an M-hand; exaggerate movements, make sure signs are differentiated). Just speak and do signs for anything they'd usefully learn - food, more, mum-milk, sleep, potty perhaps as an opening gambit. From 7-9 months they should be able to pick up at least a dozen signs and by 10 months be signing back; obviously that's assuming normal development and consistent use by caregivers.

Most sign books use ASL, which can be confusing if you go to a class and all the signs are different.

The potty and sign go together, giving then a way to communicate their need and a way to greater comfort - I imagine they play off each other.


We found that entirely useless. It was recommended to us by someone who has no kids. As the parent, you most likely know what they want anyway.


Worked great for us - we only used about 10 signs, but things like our son suddenly at the table refusing all food and waving randomly at the table - so we asked (rhetorically) 'fine! What do you want?' And he signed "water". After a swig he happily carried on eating. Also our daughter running up to us (11 months) and signing she wanted her diaper changed. Sure enough...

We have other friends with similar aged kids who's kids get incredibly frustrated when they cannot communicate something like that and just scream until the parents five then what they want.

Our kids did use it both differently, and different amounts, but it was a minor helpful extra for us.


In my experience, kids find a way to make themselves understood. And their parents will find out -- sooner or later. For things they cannot find out, they probably couldn't help them much anyway.

I find it rather strange to impose a defined vocabulary on them. If such a toddler language would actually be of any use to solve an actual problem, I think evolution would have already found a (then well known) solution.


Heh, maybe. We tried teaching both my kids ASL at 6 months. The first one managed to get four of five signs before she could talk. The second one has zero, but then again, he doesn't really talk yet either.


Do second kids typically start talking later? I have two separate friends with two kids each. Both their oldest kids learned to talk pretty early, their second in both cases were much later.


My anecdata agrees. My brother in law's first two kids were born 11 months apart so their developmental stages were pretty synced up, but their third definitely took a lot longer to start talking. His older brothers just spoke for him and understood what he wanted without him having to speak, so he didn't.


Interesting that kids could still understand baby gesturing/talk.


My daughter learned to talk a lot earlier than her older sister who is a year older, also learned to walk earlier too. Anecdotal, obviously, but part of me thinks she was trying to "keep up."


Mine was the opposite. I was impressed how early my second son started to make complete sentences.


Don't worry, all of us are in that boat. 1/2 the time is spent keeping the book away from him.


Even at 17 months it still feels like this.


Is your kid the Globglogabgalab?


Didn't consent to third-party tracking, and then couldn't access the article. I hope that this doesn't become a widespread pattern, where companies disallow access to services when people decline to be tracked/profiled, now that we have an increased legal mandate for clarity and user rights online. NPR, being a public benefit non-profit, should really act in the public interest, and allow people to access the content without being subject to surveillance from ad companies and social media.


If 3rd party tracking is not arguably required for them to provide the service, then this behavior is not valid, if I understand the GDPR wording correctly.


I didn't give them my consent so I got redirected to the plain text version of the website on which you can read the article without being tracked https://text.npr.org/s.php?sId=611609366


As long as one can find it. It's not trivial when you're just thrown to the front page and there's no obvious search feature.


I don't understand the point you're making.

Before: 3rd party tracking happens; you don't know about it; you don't get the chance to decline to read the article before 3rd party tracking happens.

Now: 3rd party happens if you allow it to happen; you know when it's going to happen; you get the choice to allow it or not.

How is this worse?


We're reaping what we have sown.


As someone who has studied extremely detailed information for most of my life, I have found to this day that the most useful presentation of information is text coupled with diagram.

Which makes more sense to you? Reading a wall of text, or looking at a properly formatted table and graph where your brain can study and make sense of trends?

Would you rather have a wall of text or audio description of the human arm, or would you rather have one illustration to distill the relevant features?

Children's brains, I assume, work like adult brains, and this article agrees.


I wonder if a TV show with static images and spoken words would still induce the zombie like behaviour of kids? Would this be more beneficial over animation?


Its a mildly interesting question but if you want to know whats best its a parent reading to a child because there is an emotional dialogue on top of the reading. Listening to radio or any other passive reception of a signal replayed is nothing compared to live performance by a human that can react to the now (e.g. if the kid finds something funny you can slow down and enjoy the moment etc.).


And to add to this, very young children specifically want attention from their parents. It's good to give it to them. Whatever you are doing can probably wait 10 to 15 years for them to no longer want to monopolize your time.


Amen to this. Raising children is the most important job you are ever likely to do and you will never regret devoting time to it.


Who has ever said from their deathbed, "I wish I had spent less time with my kids"? They're only children once. They change so fast and it will be the biggest regret of your life if you miss it.


This is what reading rainbow was. It’s more engaging than animation.


YouTube is full of these, typically targeted as vocabulary learning for infants.


In the UK, the BBC runs a program like this. People read kids stories and they show the static images from the book.


I believe that also was (is?) the format of Reading Rainbow.


Sorry to say this but that sounds like radio? Though also there are audio books nowadays.


The article says that audio alone causes kids to struggle harder with understanding. The whole point of what he is asking is to meet in the middle where kids can understand and get the most out of the media.


Bingo - I have a 3 year old and the effect TV has on them is astonishing... complete trance. We read books every night and she gets really engaged and remembers very specific details weeks later.

As every parent can attest to, there are just times when putting a kid in front of a TV is helpful (airplane rides, when caring for other children, when you need a break etc) so it would be nice to retain some brain activity, or as you say, meet in the middle.


Your radio has pictures?


I created some animated science education videos and guerrilla-street-usability tested them, mostly with adults. As a hobby project. I was surprised by the dramatic impact of reading-listening interference and cognitive load. It turned out to be well known, but lacking that background, I found it bizarre to have an character and simple environment appear, read text on the screen, and then when I hit pause, and asked for feedback, get "well, you might add mention of <thing that was just moments ago said and shown>". And at least once, when I replayed the same video, get "oh yes, this version is much better".

As VR/AR UI/UX design becomes a thing, there's a body of expertise around multimedia learning that will need to be integrated.


Bought my 8yo son an Echo for his birthday, we usually read together but he also loves the unabridged Harry Potter series read by Stephen Fry on Audible. Such a good reader, fun for tens of hours when parents have a sore throat :)


GDPR'd in EU.


Here's the text only version you get redirected to when you don't agree to profiling: https://text.npr.org/s.php?sId=611609366

It's second time I've seen something like that today. The first one was even minimally, yet aesthetically styled. It's awesome! I wouldn't expect GDPR to increase UX of the Web so much :)


That site always existed, they didn't create it for this.


It looks like they've given more thought than most to GDPR, but how on earth they reached the conclusion that giving refuseniks nothing but the text would keep them legal, I do not know.


I assume the text only version doesn’t have any targeted advertising or tracking embedded in it, which means there’s nothing to consent to being recorded and retained about you.


Is the visitor's IP address still recorded in a web server access log? If so, does that need consent? I'm genuinely asking. I'm not a GDPR expert.


Not for me if I accept the first privacy screen


There is a revoke agreement option too, haha amazing :-)


tldr: the old school way is still the best. Read a real book to your kid.


Probably could my mom/dad pick something age appropriate next time?


HN's duplicate article detector is broken. This was previously posted here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17150550

The url is identical. I've noticed this happening quite a bit. Here's another example, in this case an article I posted then someone posting the identical article a few hours later:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17138682

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17143429

@dang, what gives?


My understanding is that if a post did not get a lot of attention, then the duplicate will be allowed through.

> Are reposts ok?

> If a story has had significant attention in the last year or so, we kill reposts as duplicates. If not, a small number of reposts is ok.

> Please don't delete and repost the same story; accounts that do that eventually lose submission privileges. Deletion is intended for things that shouldn't have been submitted in the first place.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html


Ok, so how do you explain this one then?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17154175

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17157649

Both posts are ~6 hours apart, each one has a decent number of points and comments, and each one points to the exact same url.


Afaik HN checks its cache for duplicates. This means if the cache is used up by something else (e.g. a long discussion about GDPR) the old submission gets flushed out quite early and a duplicate submission after only a short time is possible.




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