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Children become more intelligent with ‘optimal’ amount of weekly reading

Children in pre-school - Getty Images

Children in pre-school - Getty Images© Getty Images

Children should read for 12 hours a week to boost their performance in school, a Cambridge study has found.

Reading for pleasure was found to increase the size of children’s brains, improve cognitive ability, support good mental health and also lead to better grades.

The study of more than 10,000 children in the US found that those who started reading for fun at a young age had superior brain structure and function in their teens.

For “optimal” results, children should be reading for 12 hours every week, academics found. Any less and the brain is not being fully nurtured, but any more and the child starts to suffer a decline, likely due to being sedentary for too long.

‘A relatively low-cost intervention’

Prof Barbara Sahakian, co-lead author of the University of Cambridge research, told The Telegraph: “This large sample of adolescents studied suggests that 12 hours per week of reading for pleasure in children would boost their academic achievement as adolescents.

“Reading for pleasure in childhood was linked to improved school academic achievement in adolescence.”

Data show that children who did read for pleasure got an average of a quarter of a grade higher than those who did not.

“I think it is very important that such a relatively low-cost intervention of reading for pleasure in childhood can have such major benefits to cognition, academic performance in school and mental health in adolescents,” added Prof Sahakian.

“It is also very enjoyable for parents and children to spend time reading and discussing the story and the pictures.

“It stimulates social skills, creative thinking and other forms of cognition in young children.”

Their study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, analysed data on children, all from the US, including interviews, cognitive tests, mental and behavioural assessments and brain scans.

They then compared information on children who began reading for pleasure before they turned nine against those who started later, or not at all.

Of the 10,243 participants studied, just under a half had little experience of reading for pleasure or did not begin doing so until later in their childhood.

The other half had between three and 10 years’ reading for pleasure.

Those who started reading for pleasure at a young age were found to perform better on a variety of tests and also had better mental wellbeing, showing fewer signs of stress and depression, as well as improved attention and fewer behavioural problems such as aggression and rule-breaking. They also tended to use screens less and slept longer.

‘Cornerstones for future learning’

Academics also analysed brain scans of teenagers and found that those who started reading for pleasure at a young age showed moderately larger total brain areas and volumes, and also showed differences in brain regions previously shown to relate to improved mental health, behaviour and attention.

“Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience – it’s widely accepted that it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy and reduces stress,” said Prof Sahakian.

“But on top of this, we found significant evidence that it’s linked to important developmental factors in children, improving their cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are cornerstones for future learning and wellbeing.”

Professor Jianfeng Feng from Fudan University in Shanghai, China and the University of Warwick, added: “We encourage parents to do their best to awaken the joy of reading in their children at an early age.

“Done right, this will not only give them pleasure and enjoyment, but will also help their development and encourage long-term reading habits, which may also prove beneficial into adult life.”

Story by Joe Pinkstone: The Telegraph

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