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Science Says Picture Books Are Great For Your 4-Year-Old's Brain

We live in a world where screen time dominates. Not only are we glued to our computers or tablets or phones, but so are our kids. While screen time can be fine for children as long as it's monitored and limited within reason, science is proving that nothing is better for your toddler's mental development than a regular old picture book.

There is a ton of educational programming available for children both online and on television for parents who want to ensure their kids are watching something meaningful when they are in front of a screen, but a new study shows that traditional media, in the form of a picture book, is still the best for your child.

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The study conducted  by researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital involved 27 children ranging in age from 3 to 5 years old to measure the effect of exposure to a variety of media. The children where presented stories by popular Canadian author Robert Munsch in three different ways. They were exposed to an audio only version of the book, the picture book with audio, as well as an animated cartoon. They were studied to find out the impact of each different kind of media had on the child.

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Lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, spoke with CBC's As It Happens to discuss what they discovered when observing the children. He stated that in the audio only format, kids at that pre-school age had to work harder "to keep up with the story and to really figure out what was going on, and there wasn't as much involvement of the visual networks."

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Credit: iStock / FamVeld

He went on to state that when the kids were exposed to the animated story, "it was like everything kind of came apart," Dr. Hutton said.

"At that age, kids' ... brain networks develops gradually and in order to reinforce the connection they need practice. We think it's really important for kids to have the opportunity to, you know, be given as much help as they need, but then still have the opportunity to practice applying their own imagination."

He said the ideal response was when kids were exposed to the picture books. "In the illustrated version," he said, "there with a really nice balanced integration of the visual networks and the default mode network and the language networks. They were off they all seemed to be co-operating a lot more. Which is probably one of the reasons that picture books are so appealing [to] that age. ... If you have a picture, that gives the child something to start with and then they bring their imagination into play and they could bring the story to life in their mind."

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The study finds that reading to your kids when they're young not only fosters a love of reading that will hopefully carry on when the grows, but it helps with their language development as well as fosters a child's creativity and imagination. They also caution too much exposure to animation may actually inhibit those crucial developments.

We all know that reading to our children is a bonding experience that many parents cherish with their kids, but now science has confirmed it's better for their brains as well.

NEXT: At What Age Can Kids Start To Walk To School Alone? 

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