Children and books go together like peanut butter and jelly. From board books for babies to science fiction novels for teens, books transport children to worlds of imagination. Reading cultivates vocabulary and language development in young children. Teens build social and writing skills. When reading is a family affair, children and parents bond, whether parents are reading a bedtime story to a toddler or sharing an audiobook on a road trip with teenagers.
Reading together builds memories. From the birth of your baby through high school graduation, you can incorporate reading into your family routine with these helpful tips.
Why You Should Be Reading With Young Children
Educators have a saying: From birth to third grade, children learn to read. From then on, they read to learn.
This concise saying encapsulates the value of reading for lifelong benefits. Children who are readers – and, yes, that includes babies and toddlers – absorb priceless lessons in language, social interaction and focus. When the written word is a comfortable friend, learning in all subjects comes more easily.
Many parents aren’t confident about reading with children, but with just a bit of practice and an understanding of the reasons reading is essential at all phases of a child’s life, they can embrace reading and make it a regular family activity.
1. Reading to Children Helps Them Sleep
Sleep is essential to childhood health and positive behavior. After all, everyone knows how cranky a sleepy toddler can be. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that sleep deprivation can cause behavioral and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in young children. On the other hand, regular, restful sleep promotes growth and healthy weight, builds immunity, increases the attention span and boosts learning.
What does sleep have to do with reading? The benefits of reading bedtime stories include calmer minds and bodies, to help children fall asleep more easily. Parents who read to their children every night develop positive routines that get young minds thinking about creative and inspiring topics before falling asleep, guiding them toward positive dreams.
And while technology is doing wonders for children’s learning, tablets, cellphones, video games and televisions shouldn’t have a place in their bedrooms. Children allowed to use technology at bedtime are likelier to have anxious sleep and wake more frequently.
2. Reading Improves Communication Skills and Language Development
Children who read frequently are much more likely to express themselves and relate to others in a healthy way, according to research conducted by Reach Out and Read National Center. Reading aloud models positive communication — including the importance of active listening — while strengthening children’s linguistic abilities.
Picture books are two to three times more likely than parent conversations to contain words not included in the 5,000 most common English words, one researcher has found. Children who hear uncommon words are exposed to an expanded vocabulary that will aid them throughout their education. In fact, other studies show that the more adults read out loud to children, the larger the children’s vocabularies will grow.
Reading to infants, toddlers and preschoolers imparts important lessons in literacy. Reading out loud to grade school children expands their empathy for people and places beyond their own experiences, while it continues strengthening advanced literacy skills such as more complex vocabulary and sentence structure.
3. Reading With Young Children Creates Parental Bonds
Reading to kids every night, and any time you can, demonstrates intentional attention and allows for time set apart just for the two of you. In today’s technology-saturated world, it’s important to build an emotional connection with your children — without a screen or other distractions.
When reading time is fun and positive, your child will look forward to that part of the day and be encouraged to “read” along. You don’t even have to follow the story exactly. Just hold your child close, make silly noises and character voices and, sometimes, let your child be the storyteller.
If you’re not confident in your own reading abilities, pick up pointers from the librarian at your local library’s story time, or find a YouTube video that offers tips and techniques. It’s well worth the effort just to feel your child cuddle up and to see how reading sparks the imagination.
4. Reading Can Accelerate Childhood Education
Children’s books teach a multitude of topics — from life lessons about friendship to the fundamentals of rhyme and rhythm. Starting a reading habit at an early age will lay the foundation for issues and ideas that will help children as learners. Twenty-six percent of children who were read to by a family member three or four times a week recognized all letters of the alphabet, compared with 14 percent of children who were read to less frequently, according to studies conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Time spent reading has a direct impact on children’s knowledge in and out of the classroom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests five elements of reading aloud that carry over into academic success: Be conversational, be positive and fun, reference the words you’re saying on the printed page, point to pictures and letters, and read aloud often.
5. Reading Improves Cognitive Development
The young child’s brain is a construction site, building all the connections that will enable learning and social functioning for life. Developing a regular reading habit keeps that construction site even busier, helping children grasp abstract concepts, apply logic, recognize cause and effect, identify themes and use good judgment. These critical thinking abilities not only will help children in future English classes, but they can be applied to learning as a whole and to social interactions.
In fact, in a study conducted by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, they discovered during MRI scans that the regions in the left-side brain associated with word meanings and memory became active when children listened to a story.
“The more you read to your child, the more you help the neurons in this region to grow and connect in a way that will benefit the child in the future in reading,” one of the researchers said.
How to Build Reading Habits With Older Children
Reading doesn’t go on the backburner when your child gets older. Family reading with older children reinforces good habits that started young. Try these tips for reading with teenagers.
Create Digital-Free Zones
Create a spot in the home that’s closed to electronics but open to family conversation and reading. Where there’s no TV, there’s less temptation to turn it on for a game or a Netflix binge.
Just like young children, teens can experience sleep disruptions when they use electronics just before – and often after – bedtime. Swapping electronics for books before bed can ease your antsy teen into a restful night’s sleep.
It doesn’t matter what form your child’s reading takes, as long as it’s age-appropriate. Graphic novels, textbooks and poetry all deliver the benefits of reading.
Read and Discuss Young Adult Novels
Young adult fiction is one of the hottest publishing genres. Young adult literature spans science fiction, romance, crime, horror and fantasy, and much of it is very good. Occasionally, try picking up the same book your teen is reading and starting a conversation.
Encourage your teens to keep reading by suggesting that they blog about what they’re reading, or open your home to a meeting of your child’s book club.
Model Good Reading Habits
Teens watch you for cues, so if they see you reading they’ll be likelier to pick up the habit. Make sure kids see you reading physical books, because if you do your reading for information and entertainment on an electronic device, they might assume you’re doing what they do – playing games, watching videos or tracking social media.
Keep a variety of reading material around the house, including magazines and newspapers that your teen can peruse at leisure. Sit down for family dinner and bring the day’s reading into the conversation.
Play Audiobooks on the Road
Children and teens are often paying more attention than you think. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks or podcasts during long road trips, you might be surprised to see signs that your children are listening, too. No need to tailor the audio selection to your children, as long as it’s age-appropriate. If they’re listening along with you, they’re being entertained or informed, which counts toward reading that expands their horizons.
Reading to Your Child Supports Lifelong Learning
Reading opens worlds of wonder. Children who are read to from birth and who become readers as they grow have a head start in school and in life. Every parent can learn to make reading a family affair. Homes full of reading material and an atmosphere of discussion and creativity send the message to kids that reading matters.
Commonwealth Charter Academy believes in personalized learning that uses all the tools of education, including the power of reading. We accommodate the needs and interests of each individual child, because this is how school should work. Learn more about CCA’s mission to help learners gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to achieve success.