It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that reading to children benefits their brain development. In addition to spending quality time with the person who is reading to them, it helps with their language development, imagination and pattern recognition - even starting in infancy.
A recent study released by Pediatrics demonstrated that the brains of 5-year-olds responded differently to the sounds of reading than they did to other noises. Regions of the brain associated with narrative comprehension and visual imagery were active while they were listening to stories.
Other studies have been done to demonstrate a larger development of vocabulary in children who are regularly read to versus children who are not read to (or even spoken to) as often. Preschoolers who hear more stories also become more empathetic. By hearing stories about people or animals who have their feelings hurt or who have sad experiences, children can start to imagine what it might be like to experience something similar.
As conservationists and environmental educators, why would we care? It all starts with imagination and a spark of curiosity. Maybe the girl who hears about animal rescues in books becomes interested in becoming a wildlife veterinarian. Perhaps the young boy who reads about an orphaned serval kitten decides to go into public policy to ensure that roads do not cut through sensitive wildlife habitat. Maybe a group of kids who learns about oil spills decides to do a fundraiser to help sea otters.
Have you noticed any benefits from reading to your children or students? We'd love to hear about them, along with which books are your favorites.