Oh The Places You ll Go

March 2, 2012 by staff 

Oh The Places You ll Go, Dr. Seuss, the children’s book author born Theodor Seuss Geisel 108 years ago today (March 2), knew how to craft a catchy rhyme. But these rhymes aren’t just child’s play — research suggests that rhyming is built into our brains, and is even key to helping children learn to read.

“If you hear one word, words that rhyme with that word will get activated” in the brain, said Michael Wagner, an experimental linguist at McGill University in Montreal. “It seems like this is one of the factors that explains why rhyme seems to work so well and is so pleasing to us.”

The rhyming brain  Indeed, Dr. Seuss’ playful rhymes have pleased generations of children and their parents. “The Cat in the Hat” (Random House, 1957), for example, has sold more than 11 million copies. The evidence suggests that Seuss knew his audience: Rhymes are very compelling for young children, and their brains seem to process them even better than they process the meanings of other words.

In one 2004 study, researchers read lists of words to young children and then asked them to recall and recite the words they’d heard. The words on the list were all related: A child might hear “nap,” “bed,” “rest,” “peace,” “wake,” “dream,” “doze” and “snore,” for example. When adults take this test, they often inject the word “sleep” into their recitation, despite the fact that it appears nowhere on the original list. The litany of sleep-related words has tricked their brain into assuming the word’s presence.

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