Educational neuroscientist and Channel 4’s "The Secret Lives of Five Year Olds" expert Paul Howard-Jones has urged parents to read to their children to boost youngsters’ maths skills, in the Annual BookTrust Lecture.
Howard-Jones shared his knowledge on early childhood brain development and the role books have played in the growth of children’s intellect across the ages in the presentation delivered at the Natural History Museum in central London this afternoon (20th November). He revealed insights on the vital role of reading as a catalyst for civilisation, and how it continues to rewire young minds from the earliest years, providing a platform for adult wellbeing and success.
The audience of publishers, authors, illustrators and key industry figures heard the neuroscientist draw together facts to explain how evolutionary science tells the story of learning’s central role in the rise of the human species to top predator. He said how many thousands of years ago, our ability and inclination to share attention provided an essential platform for the development of powerful cultural tools such as reading.
Howard-Jones said: “Reading allows access to a symbolic system of communication through which we can imagine and experience multiple worlds created by others. Reading with young children is not just about literacy, it readies the brain to interpret new concepts and new ways of thinking, including mathematics.
“Children can begin to understand the value and concept of books by seeing adults experiencing books and having their attention drawn to books. This can start in the first 2-3 years of their lives - well before they themselves know how to read – but when their brains are at their most plastic and malleable. That’s a great start – and it can develop into a resilient enthusiasm for books in their school and adult lives.”
He added: “Simply put, reading is perhaps the most important cultural tool we transmit to our children. It’s the gateway to the greatest part of accumulated human experience and understanding. One of the best things we can do as parents is help them discover that gateway, by reading and experiencing the joy of a book with them. It’s really never too early to share a book.”
BookTrust c.e.o. Diana Gerald said: “We’re thrilled to have Paul, someone so enthusiastic and passionate about children’s reading, come to speak with industry leaders about its importance from a new, evolutionary perspective. Each year we aim to bring, exciting and culturally relevant speakers to the lecture who not only provide insights to the people attending, but can also share their knowledge and experitise to provide useful tips and information for parents and carers at home."