This may seem a rather simplistic approach to learning, especially in this day and age when parents are in a constant (and sometimes fruitless) quest for activities they hope would magically stimulate their child's brainpower-a pursuit that has led to the birth of an entire industry that specialises in keeping young minds cerebrally occupied. However, I believe that instead of mindlessly ferrying children hither-thither, if parents focus on upping their kid's reading quotient, it would do a lot more good.
Don't get me wrong. I am not pooh-poohing the immense effort parents make to enroll their kids for myriad classes with the intention of improving their analytical skills. I know that it takes a lot of commitment, especially on a mother's part (let's face it, it's mostly the mothers doing this) to work out the time and logistics of getting the little ones to classes and back. Yet, I am old-school in my approach. I believe nothing stimulates the imagination like good ol' fiction (think of your childhood without Agatha Christie!)
My own point of view aside, there've been scientific studies which state that reading affects the brain's connectivity. A study at Emory University in Atlanta last year, mapped the effects of reading on the mind by conducting a series of MRIs on students who were asked to read parts of a thriller novel. The results, called 'Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain', revealed some interesting facts-there was increased connectivity not only in the left temporal cortex, an area in the brain associated with language, but also in the central sulcus, an area which controls movement and sense of touch.
According to Dr Gregory Berns, who headed this research, "This means that the act of reading puts the reader in the body of the protagonist." Though there is nothing new in the notion that reading puts a person in someone else's shoes figuratively, but this study shows that something may also be happening biologically. "Long-term changes in connectivity, which persisted for several days after the reading, suggest a potential mechanism for embodied semantics." (The U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information defines embodied semantics as an occurrence when 'the sensory-motor areas used for producing an action are also used for the conceptual representation of the same action'.) For instance, reading or thinking about running can produce some of the same connections in the brain as actual running.
Dr Berns, however, is not the only one to point out the immense benefits of reading.
In another brain-imaging research done at Emory University, it was revealed that the part of the brain used for sensing texture through touch is stimulated even when someone reads or listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence is read without such a metaphor.
Thus, narrative fuels a child's imagination like none other. So spend at least half an hour a day reading to your kids and encourage them to be crazy about books. It's the best gift you could give them. And once you do that, you set them on a lifelong journey of discovery and exploration.