Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines suggesting that parents read to their babies from the earliest age. The guidelines were based on the theory that early reading helps young brains develop. Researchers linked early reading with language development and academic progress, but there weren't any studies to explain the connection — until now. New research has taken a closer look at what happens in a baby's brain when a baby hears a story, and it helps explain why reading to young children is so incredibly important.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used MRIs to look at the brain activity of 3- to 5-year-olds when they were read a story by their parents. Researchers found that the toddlers' brains lit up when they listened to stories, especially if they were read to frequently at home. And the area of the brain that showed the most activity was in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This is the area associated with sound and visual stimulation and it's the part of the brain that activates when older kids read to themselves.

So here's the really cool part: Did you catch that the kids had lots of activity in the area of their brains associated with visual stimulation? Yet the kids in the study were not shown pictures, they only listened to the stories. Researchers think the children who had more access to books and reading at home were better at forming images in their brains when they listened to stories, even without the pictures. This kind of brain activation does not occur when kids watch a video, even if it's a video of the same story, because they are fed the images rather than having to create the pictures on their own.

The study concluded that reading to babies stimulates the brain in ways that improve language development as kids get older. And that helps kids become better readers, and better students down the road.

Baby brains benefit from early reading sessions
A baby's brain lights up with activity when story time rolls around, MRIs show.