Reading to Children: Why It’s So Important and How to Start
Babies and young children are sponges that soak in practically everything in their environments. It’s true! Even during story time, their minds are at work, taking in all the language they hear and lessons the characters learn.
Reading to your child — at any age — will boost their brain development, your bond, and so much more. And all it takes is a few books, motivation, and a little time.
First, set the scene in your head. You choose a book. You sit down in your favorite armchair, with your child in your lap, and open to the first of many smooth, colorful pages.
You begin to read, and your child is utterly captivated by the story. It’s magic. What’s even better is that your child isn’t just having fun, they’re learning!
Reality may look a little different: Just know you’re not alone if your baby tries to eat the book or your toddler wanders around the room instead of sitting patiently. But the benefits of reading remain the same.
Reading provides a wonderful opportunity for you and your child to connect. It’s a nice way to spend time together and slow down during an otherwise hectic day.
Research from 2008 pointed out how reading can support a solid parent-child relationship. Kids feel secure when they’re read to. Plus, caregivers who have a positive attitude toward books and reading in turn help their children view literacy in a positive way.
Hearing a story read aloud involves some level of comprehension on your child’s part. And comprehension is dependent on paying attention — in other words, listening skills.
Cognitive and language development
Even the youngest children benefit from hearing their caregivers read to them. A 2013 study showed that babies who are read to and talked to score higher in language skills and cognitive development, like problem solving.
Research from 2018 suggests that this link extends throughout childhood into the teen years. In fact, researchers say that verbal interactions (reading, talking, etc.) between parents and young kids may promote higher language and IQ scores all the way up to age 14.
Experts from the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning also explain that reading books to kids helps expand the number and variety of words they use. Think about it: The books you read often contain words you might not otherwise use in your everyday communications.
While reading a book, you might end up using more specific names for different plants or animals or use more adjectives (descriptive words) altogether. And this adds up.
Dinah Castro, a bilingual family well-being educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, shares that reading to children helps them develop key concentration and self-discipline skills.
You’ve probably dealt with a squirming, distracted toddler at story hour. But what you may also notice is that — over time — regular reading gets kids listening in order to comprehend.
And when they’re listening, they’re more likely to sit still, develop a longer attention span, and even work on their budding memory-retention skills.
Books and stories open up a whole new world to your child. Yes, there are plenty of nonfiction books on dinosaurs, bugs, and airplanes. Fiction stories, though, go beyond the real world and employ fantasy elements that get kids thinking outside the box.
Children have vivid imaginations as is, so reading serves to further feed their creativity. And experts at PBS note that creativity is important for developing interests and ideas, as well as for fostering emotional health.
Books provide an opportunity to talk about real-world situations in age-appropriate ways. Kids especially enjoy books that feature children their own ages doing things they do in everyday life.
Along with modeling what happens in various situations, reading books on targeted subjects may help children not feel alone when they deal with something new, like moving across the country, or something potentially uncomfortable, like going to the dentist.
Social and emotional development
Castro also says that reading to young children teaches them how to cope with “difficult or stressful experiences.” She further explains that reading stories about potentially emotional situations, like starting at a new school, can help get a conversation going and show children that their feelings are normal.
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