The Importance of Reading to Your Child
by Sandi Swiridoff
“Read it again, read it again!” exclaimed my 5-year-old grandson. His 2-year-old sister then chimed in, “Again!” Even though we had already read the book a million times, and they knew exactly how it ended, they still wanted to hear it again, and again. Heaven forbid I try to skip a page—they’ve committed the entire book to memory and will make sure I read the whole thing. Every. Single. Word.
And so, I read it again. Although this can get old for us rather impatient adults, it is so worth it! We’ve all heard that reading to children is important, but did you know that it can irreversibly improve their brain development?
Reading aloud to your child will not only benefit him now but will have a lasting effect on his future. Things that happen to a child during the first few years set the stage for the rest of his life. What a young child experiences permanently effects how his brain develops.
Nurturing from a loving adult in a child’s early years promotes healthy brain development. So, when you cuddle up and read aloud to your children, not only are you increasing their feelings of love and security but you are setting them up for success later in life.
Study after study shows that early reading with children is beneficial on multiple levels. Reading helps build curiosity, memory, and motivation. It has been shown that young children whose parents read aloud to them, creating a positive association with books and reading, had an advantage when they entered school. They had better language development, literacy skills, and a love of reading compared to those children whose parents did not read to them.
Reading aloud can help children cope during times of stress or anxiety. Reading to very young children has been linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties. Reading helps children learn to use words to describe their emotions, which then enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like sadness or anger.
It’s never too early to start reading to your child. Even newborns love to be held close and hear their mommy or daddy’s voice as they read. But it’s also important to keep reading aloud to your children even when they can read themselves. Some of the most cherished memories come from reading time. It strengthens the parent-child bond and encourages family togetherness.
Reading aloud should be something both you and your child look forward to. Here are a few ways to make the most of it and assure that it is a fun and positive experience for everyone involved:
Make reading part of your daily routine. If reading becomes part of their bedtime routine early on, your children will take the lead and make sure it happens every night. That’s not to say that you should reserve reading for bedtime only, but if you happen to miss reading during the day, you can be assured that your child will remind you at night.
Set a time limit. Yes, there can be ‘too much of a good thing.’ Set a time limit on the reading so that you leave the child (and yourself) wanting more. Children generally have short attention spans, therefore pushing them to listen and participate longer than they wish is frustrating and counterproductive. You know you’re doing it right when, at the end of reading time, your child says, “We’re done already?” Instead of, “Yay, we’re finally done!”
Discuss the pictures. You know that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? When you encourage your children to talk about the pictures, you are not only helping to build their vocabulary but tapping into a book’s power to support their emotional health.
Point out a character’s body language and ask, “How do you think he is feeling?”
You can also help your child make connections between pictures in a book and the world around him by noting things such as: “That boy wears glasses and has blonde hair—just like you!” Or, “Those are pretty palm trees. They remind me of California, where your great grandpa lives.”
Let them ask questions. Children will sometimes interrupt the reading with lots of questions, and that’s okay! Asking questions means that they are curious and engaged in the story. It can be an opportunity to talk about the underlying message behind the story and can provide some good teaching moments.
Above all, have fun. Parental patience is extremely important, and it’s much easier to achieve if your main goal is just to have fun. So, go on, cuddle up with your child and read a good book together. Reading with you just may become one of their fondest childhood memories.
Adapted from the following articles:
“Why it’s important to read aloud with your kids, and how to make it count.” By Amy Joyce (WashingtonPost.com)
“Some Thoughts on the Importance of Reading to Your Children” by Allan Schwartz, LCSW, PH.D. (MentalHelp.net)
“Importance of Reading Aloud” (ReachOutAndRead.org)
“Reading with Your Child” by Bernice Cullinan, Brad Bagert (ReadingRockets.org)
“Why Reading Aloud to Kids Helps Them Thrive” by Deborah Farmer Kris (PBS.org)
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