The bright and colorful section of word searches, puzzles and games that appears in The Missourian every weekend is more than just something fun for kids to do. It’s educational, and not just in terms of expanding their vocabulary or improving their spelling skills.

It’s also building fine motor skills as they are underlining, circling, using scissors to cut something out of the paper, or just using a pen or pencil to write, said Vicki Whiting, who created Kid Scoop back in 1985 when she was a third-grade teacher as a way to encourage her students to pick up their local community newspaper and realize its value to them.

“Those fine motor skills are critical to brain development,” Whiting said.

And as they flip through the newspaper, searching for specific items for a scavenger hunt-like game, they are drawn into reading the content, which activates their brains in a different way than when they read on a digital device, said Whiting, referencing neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf and her book, “Reader, Come Home — The Reading Brain in a Digital World.”

“She talks about brain research where they have watched people’s brains and seen where the neurons trigger and different things are happening,” Whiting said.

“She talks about how your brain is activated by your five senses when you read print. So when you read a book, you have a certain kind of tangible touch experience. You have a smell experience. You have a little sound experience with page turning. You have a spacial experience, because you can look at a book and see you are a quarter of the way through it . . . ”

Medical research has found when you read a digital device, you’re brain is activated differently than when you read in print, said Whiting.

“It’s not that one is better or worse, but you need both,” she said. “So it’s important for parents to model reading print to their children.”

Parents who are looking to engage in more conversation with their children should look to the newspaper as a starting point.

“How many times do you hear parents say they ask their kids, ‘How was school?’ and all they hear is ‘Fine.’ End of conversation,” said Whiting. “Well, how do you get conversations going? You see something in the newspaper and you ask them about it. Do you know about this or what do you think about this?”

And those conversations are an opening to talk about and teach your family’s values, she stressed.

“Maybe there was some vandalism in a local store, and maybe the kids know that store or even know the owner or someone who works there. You can really personalize things. Kids like to be involved like that,” said Whiting.

“I encourage parents, if they see something in the newspaper that bothers them, write a letter to the editor. When kids are upset or frightened about something, they need to know there’s something they can do, and that’s the great thing about the newspaper too, it becomes a forum where you can have a voice.”

Reading Print Maintains Neuron Connections for Adults

Parents and adults need to do more than just tell children they should be reading print. They need to model it, said Whiting, because “they will imitate what you do.”

And just like reading print is beneficial to a child’s brain, it’s also critical to an adult brain too, said Whiting, referring again to Wolf’s research.

“For adults, it’s important to read print too to maintain their neuron connections,” Whiting said. “Those neurons that we use when reading print, if we’re not reading print, they will start to die off.

“So just like you have to exercise to keep your muscles in shape, you really need to schedule time to read a full article in print, in depth, and more than just the first two paragraphs of something on your digital device to keep your brain active and functioning.”

The added benefit of the Kid Scoop section, which appears in more than 300 newspapers across the country, is that parents and children can be doing that together.

“You’re active, you’re pointing at things, touching things, engaging all these senses, and getting the chance to have a conversation and find out what is on your children’s minds,” said Whiting.

Like Reading a Book a Week

Whiting encourages parents of grown children to purchase newspaper subscriptions as gifts for their children and grandchildren to pass on the important tradition of reading the newspaper together.

“I often tell people that subscribing to a newspaper is like providing your children a book a week — for less than the cost of a book,” she remarked.

In addition to the Kid Scoop section, Whiting now has a couple of books available with Kid Scoop activities.

More than just a section in the newspaper, Kid Scoop is an entire educational program that includes a teacher guide, a monthly teacher newsletter, online resources and lesson ideas. For more information, go to www.kidscoop.com.