Reading on the Brain
Children in Baltimore’s inner-city schools are exposed to a multitude of adverse childhood events that, when compounded, have a profoundly negative effect on their brain development. CERCH is aiming to combat the impact of those stressors and provide an enriching experience that engages the children about the science of healthy brain development through reading and art. Building on Baltimore City School’s Literacy campaign, our Reading on the Brain program promotes the benefits of reading as a lasting positive message for brain stimulation that counters effects of the environment. Reading with your child enhances relationships, significantly builds vocabulary, and reduces stress and anxiety.
Studies using brain imaging have shown that reading stimulates mental imagery, language processing, and brain activity in regions important for mental health and stress relief.
CERCH is delivering this message by engaging students, families and educators in a sustainable 3-year art program centered on the concept of the brain’s lasting response to stress and the beneficial effects of reading. This project is a joint venture between CERCH and the Baltimore artist and community advocate, Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen. In developing this program, we hope to establish a successful model that can be implemented in any of Baltimore’s schools to promote a greater awareness of child brain development toward a lifetime of health and success.
One snapshot of the 90 panel mural the students of Callaway Elementary. This image depicts a father embracing his children while reading a book together. The little stars above the heads are brain cells that the students drew to represent what they imagine is happening when they read.
About the Program
As a research focused center, our goal is to promote scientific understanding of the brain and to raise awareness to the factors that influence our mental health and development. As part of our Reading on the Brain initiative, CERCH provides the students at Callaway with weekly science lesson plans, that tie back to the brain, each ending in an exciting hands-on activity for the kids. Students involved in the program also had the opportunity to visit our neuroscience lab to see science in action and extract DNA from fruit! At the end of the first year, the students showed off their science knowledge in a game show style quiz, identifying the areas of the brain, explaining how synapses work, and names cells of the brain. An impressive feat for 4thand 5thgraders!
We’ve partnered with artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen to creatively engage the students and reinforce the message of Reading on the Brain through art. In a school with an art classroom, but no art classes, the children at Callaway were excited to learn the basics of painting and more importantly how to create a vision and put it to paper. Jay and his team worked with the students twice a week to translate the science into unique artwork created by the students. Together with their families, the students created art depicting neurons and astrocytes, parents reading to their kids, visions of what they think happens to the brain when they read, and other impressive images. Their artwork will culminate in a giant mural, spreading the importance of reading in a lasting message for the community.
Despite the challenges faced by the children in Baltimore, we wanted to impart a positive message for them that promotes life-long learning and empowerment. That message, “pick up a book.” Read to yourself, read to a friend, read with your family! Reading builds vocabulary, reduces stress and anxiety, promotes better sleep, enhances relationships, and improves academic test scores. During our after-school sessions, we stress the importance of reading for brain development and future success. The students participating in the program were given a poetry book that we incorporated in our weekly lessons. All of the families and students were invited to our Family Night, where we handed out over 100 books.