The reading brain: what neuroscience can teach us

Have you ever wondered how the human brain learns to read?

Here at Happy Kids Read my mission is to help you as a parent help your child learn to read. But without knowing how learning to read actually happens we can’t be our kids’ most effective teachers.

So in this ultimate guide I’m going to explain how the brain develops the skills for reading, which should help you better support your child and make sure you’re ready to spot any potential reading problems.

No doubt you have heard of phonics. You may wonder why other methods of teaching reading have fallen out of favour and you may question whether you can help your child at all or if you should leave it to school. I will try to help with these worries in other posts (and you should check out my free reading guide if you haven’t already), but for now let’s not think about the rights and wrongs of teaching reading. Instead, let’s focus on how our kids’ brains actually develop the ability to read.

Literacy experts, teachers and parents all have their own thoughts on how children should be taught to read, and how individual children best learn to read, but perhaps the experts we really need to listen to are the neuroscientists.

These brain experts have been gathering evidence that can inform education experts and reading specialists. As we learn more about what happens in the brain as we develop language and reading skills we can fine-tune teaching. Even more exciting is the possibility to identify problems and know how to correct them.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but there is a lot we do know. Our brains are amazing. Read through this guide and you will have a much better understanding of the miracle that learning to read actually is and why some children, as with anything, take to it quicker than others. I hope the knowledge you get from it allows you to feel less pressure to get your child reading, knowing it will happen in time. That said, you should be aware of anything amiss that may be making it harder for your child to get to grips with reading.

I recommend reading the sections in order, but below are the quick links if you want to dip in.

How we learn to read: the ultimate guide

Are we born to read?

How does the brain learn to read?

What’s the point of reading?

What is reading for meaning?

Girls’ brains are different to boys’ brains (yes, really!)

Kids need good teachers (that includes you)!

Enjoy the guide and let me know what you think in the comments. Please be nice! I’m not a neuroscientist, or any other kind of scientist for that matter, so although I’ve tried to be as thorough in my research as possible there may be unintended errors or omissions. Feel free to contribute further info in the comments.

This guide is intended only as an introduction so that you can get an understanding of what needs to happen in a child’s brain before they can learn to read. For some reason, while we don’t expect small children to run before they can walk, we have an unrealistic belief that once a child steps through the school gates they should make rapid progress with reading. I hope this guide goes some way to explaining why that’s not often the case.

If you are interested in finding out more about the reading brain, there is a fantastic article over on The Seattle Times.