Brain research in children

Why this research?

Why do we investigate reading and dyslexia in children?

Children show large individual differences in how easily they learn to read. In the Netherlands, for instance, one out of every twenty children faces severe reading problems due to dyslexia. Currently, diagnosis and intervention only take place after it is clear that a child’s reading level does not improve sufficiently with standard reading instruction. By then the child is around 8-9 years old, when reading reading problems have accumulated, often leading to lower self-confidence.

Our research aims to improve the early prediction of reading difficulties. For example, we investigate how children learn new letters and how the brain changes during learning. With this knowledge, we will develop new learning tasks that can assist teachers in supporting children effectively during their reading development.

Do you want to know more about the brain and dyslexia?

  • Bekijk deze video over dyslexie van Milene Bonte voor de Universiteit van Nederland.
  • Read this interview with Milene Bonte about our research project Reading Gains.
  • Go to the ‘Dyslexia page

How do we measure brain activity?

In our research, we use two methods to measure brain activity in children: (1) EEG and (2) functional (f)MRI. Both techniques are painless and can precisely indicate how the brain changes during the process of learning to read, highlighting the individual differences exhibited by children. Below, we explain what EEG and fMRI measurements entail.

What is EEG?

EEG stands for electroencephalogram. During an EEG measurement, your child will wear a cap (similar to a swimming cap) with electrodes (like tiny microphones). The electrodes measure brain waves like a thermometer measures temperature and do not interfere with the natural process. The brain waves are produced when the brain is active, such as when your child hears, sees, thinks about, or does something. After the measurement, we analyze the EEG using specialized software. This allows us to examine step by step what happens in the brain when your child learns the letters of the language of our little “Leeswinst” monster. For example, we can see when the brain recognizes the shape of letters, processes the sound of letters, or combines letters into a word.

During the EEG measurement, your child will sit comfortably in a chair. We regularly take a break and make it a nice event. The research visit takes maximally 2 hours including breaks.

We use EEG primarily to investigate when brain activity occurs in a specific area.

What is fMRI?

fMRI refers to “functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” It is a modern technique that utilizes a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the brain. No X-ray or other ionizing radiation is involved. After specialized analysis of the brain images, it is possible to observe which brain regions are most active during the execution of a specific task. For example, we can determine the exact brain regions used to recognize the shape of letters, process the sound of letters, or combine letters into words.

Our team will carefully prepare your child for the fMRI experiment in the scanner. During the fMRI measurement, your child will lie in the scanner and will be asked to lie still at various moments.

fMRI is primarily used to examine precisely where brain activity occurs.

What happens during your visit?

Research visits for Project Leeswinst take place at Maastricht University or at one of our other research locations in the Netherlands. Your child can choose to participate alone or together with a friend. Together, we will make this a fun experience. The research lasts a maximum of 2 hours, including breaks.

The research comprises two parts:

  1. EEG measurement with a learning task involving letters
  2. Short language tests on the laptop and on paper

For the EEG measurement, your child wears a cap (swim cap) with small microphone-like sensors that measure brainwaves. In this way we can see how the brain changes when children learn letters. During the EEG measurement your child sits comfortably in a chair. The EEG measurement is not painful and has no adverse effects on your child’s well-being.

The language tests are brief tasks that are performed on a laptop or on paper. These tasks are not difficult and indicate what your child already knows about letters and words

Who is invited to participate?

In the first phase of the project (April – September 2024), we invite 5-6-year-old children attending “groep 2”. We are looking for children with or without a family history of dyslexia. Following the first research visit, we would like to follow the children’s reading development for 2 years. This will help us understand the most effective ways to predict reading problems.

Reimbursement & Debriefing

Your child will receive a present and a Leeswinst junior researcher diploma. Travel costs will be reimbursed. We will keep you/your child informed about our results, e.g., during our Leeswinst children congress.

Interested or want to participate? Contact us through the ‘Get Involved‘ page