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Reading to Kids: Ten Reasons It Matters, Ten Ways to Do It

by Dona Matthews, PhD, and Joanne Foster, EdD

“There’s nothing quite as powerful as listening to a child, reading to her, communicating with her, and staying attuned to her individual needs.” (Beyond Intelligence, page 1)

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across the United States to talk to parents about the importance of reading to their kids, starting from birth. This is based on research showing that reading enhances children’s intellectual and social development, their creativity, and their academic success.

A child whose parents read to him is more likely to do well in every area of life. No matter what neighbourhood he’s growing up in, or where his parents come from, he’ll start school with a bigger vocabulary and better communication skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, be more confident in his interactions with others, stay in school longer, and end up doing better in every part of his life.

Why? Ten reasons reading is important to children’s optimal development

1. Bonding and relationship-building. Reading together is an opportunity to snuggle or connect during a hectic day.

2. Giving you something to talk about. Talking to children, starting from infancy, is essential to their language development, and a book can always provide a topic of conversation, even with a baby.

3. Balancing the busy times. Reading a book can be a great change of pace, a chance for some quiet in the midst of busy (often stressful) lives.

4. Establishing routines. A reading ritual helps you establish a bedtime routine, which has big benefits for your child’s health, well-being, and learning. You can also think of other times—potty-training, waiting for a favourite activity or for a parent to come home—when reading might help with daily routine.

5. Building a bigger vocabulary. Reading is associated with knowing more words, and that translates into better language skills, and earlier and easier academic learning.

6. Increasing focus, memory, and concentration. Reading books together is a great way for your child to exercise her brain and develop skills that are useful in every area of life.

7. Stimulating imagination and creativity. Books provide a starting place for imagination and creativity in a way that stories told on screens can never do. The brain works differently when reading than when watching a screen.

8. Expanding your child’s world. A child who might not have thought of being a scientist, musician, doctor, or mechanic can find role models in books that allow her to explore options and possibilities she wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.

9. Increasing your child’s empathy and tolerance for others. By reading books about children in different circumstances, you help him become more accepting of others who are different.

10. Nurturing self-discovery. In books, a child can find others who think like he does, or who cope with challenges he thinks are unique to him (like being deaf, or dealing with mental illness or loss). This can be a catalyst for him feeling okay about himself, and discovering the strength in his own unique way of being.

How? Ten ways parents can encourage their children’s development through reading

1. Be engaged in the reading experience. “Read aloud with expression, pleasure, and interest. (‘Did you notice the look on the rabbit’s face?’ ‘Can you make that look?’ ‘What’s going to happen next?’)” (p. 55)

2. Be patient and encouraging—a love of reading grows over time. “Every kind of ability grows incrementally, step by step…Provide opportunities to learn the value of sustained periods of engaged time, and task commitment.” (p. 194 and p. 202)

3. Invite and encourage your child’s curiosity. “Welcome her questions, and find the answers together. Celebrate her explorations and discoveries.” (p. 49)

4. Stretch your child’s abilities by supporting his interests. “Parents can help their children’s interests become abilities, by paying attention to what those interests are, responding to them as they emerge, and providing structure and encouragement for their development.” (p. 61)

5. Model good reading habits. “Most children’s attitudes emerge from their experiences at home… Parents can facilitate their kids’ engagement by being growth-minded themselves, taking pleasure in, and gaining knowledge from, their own day-to-day experiences.” (pp. 115-116)

6. Limit screen time. “There’s a time and place for technology in children’s lives...Too much of it can encourage lazy habits of mind.” (p. 117)

7. Foster autonomy by allowing your child to select his own reading. “As your child grows older, let him be increasingly responsible for his decisions.” (p. 120)

8. Make connections between your child’s life and the books he’s reading. “Link the real world of experience, achievement, and meaningful ideas to children’s…learning.” (p. 167)

9. Support your child in learning about surmounting obstacles. “Read stories about people who prevail over adversity, and talk about why and how they’ve done that.” (p. 184)

10. Provide access to lots of different kinds of reading material. “Each child needs many and various chances to explore who she is uniquely, and who she wants to become.” (p. 227)

For more on this topic:

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

A springboard for this article (and research support for many of the ‘Whys’) can be found at…

Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth (New York Times)…

I is for infant: Reading aloud to young children benefits brain development (PBS)…

A Guide to Reading With Your Child…

Indigo Love of Reading Foundation…

The Children's Reading Foundation Frontier College. Literacy - learning for life

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