Discover an in-depth introduction to the benefits of reading to children. Why it is important and why you should do it.
Reading to children has many benefits, some more obvious or known about, and others, less so. For example, we are all told how reading to your child stimulates brain development and enhances their academic performance, but the benefits of reading to children in terms of their world view and cultural understanding and in terms of the family dynamics associated with this pastime are not as well known. Yet, they are very important facts.
In today’s world, where often both parents work and the children are cared for by strangers, it is more important than ever to savor every opportunity to engage, bond and interact with our children. To put aside distractions, turn off the game console, laptop, i pad, telephone and television and give them our undivided, excited, encouraging, playful, familial attention. Whether this be for ten minutes or two hours, everyday, or once a week… we should try and fit reading to our children as often as is possible, into all available moments in our day-to-day routine.
Consider the world we live in too. Our cities, towns and villages, all across the world are host to vibrant, diverse, interesting, multicultural communities. We all have our own traditions, backgrounds, festivals, foods, clothing, faiths and religions. Yes, we can try and seclude ourselves; stick to what we know… but there is so much out there to learn and understand.
Our children are growing up in this vibrant, colourful world – we owe it to them to help them open their eyes and their minds and to try and understand it. Reading immerses the child into worlds other than their own – fairy tale worlds, real worlds, fantasy worlds… each with their own characters and personalities. Developing empathy and engagement with these worlds and with the characters within these worlds, gives them the openness to accept and engage with the many diverse worlds within our own world.
Even before they are born, reading engages and stimulates your child’s brain, communication and social skills. From about 26 weeks, within the womb, they can hear and recognise their mother’s voice, and that of other family members. They can here the intonations, the sounds, the verbal expressions and begin processing this, ready to engage and interact with it once they are born into their family’s world.
When the mother reads to her unborn baby, she is also forming and deepening her attachment, by recognising and communicating with her as yet unborn child, thus setting the precedent for continued attachment after the child’s birth. Taking time out to engage with her bump, also allows her a moment of peace and relaxation. She can momentarily forget the stresses and problems within her world, thus calming her mind, relaxing her muscles and allowing her to rest and be calm. This in itself is beneficial to the unborn child – dropping the mother’s and subsequently, babies levels of the stress-hormone, cortisol.
After birth, the benefits of reading to your children continue. The developing infant hears and sees your facial expressions, your emotions, your reactions and excitement as you read them their books. They learn this and copy this, and will later mimic you; starting to grow their vocabulary, listening to the sounds, the vowels, the intonations; how you singsong the words, how you whisper, how you shout… They realise, there is so much more to language than just simple words and this prepares them for trying out their own future voice.
Reading also helps them learn to name their world. As you point out the pictures and make the sounds, they start to understand, things exist around them. Things around them have names… Things that exist have names! Soon, they will start to learn they like or dislike some of these things with names – and will start using them to get – or not get – what they do or do not want.
Once they become toddlers, your child is interacting and engaging even more with their world. They test their power, their words and their abilities; hone their skills; try out new things, and realise, there is so much out there, in their world. Some things are exciting, delightful, fun… some things are not nice, horrible or scary. Books allow toddlers to make sense of these new feelings and emotions; to see how the characters in the book react and behave in response to these; to start understanding causes and effects. They discover new ways to react and new ways think about, explore and understand things.
The toddlers brain is like a bone dry sponge. Everything they see, hear, taste, smell, sense, think or believe, is being soaked right up. Even the slightest experience, overlooked by the adults around them, is registered and processed. Everything is expanding their mind. It is up to us to use this opportunity to help them soak up helpful information and provide them with as many positive examples as we can. Remember, this inquisitive toddler will soon be walking their own steps in the world – away from your secure and loving gaze.
Hopefully, by the time they leave your side and take their first tentative steps in the outside word, the benefits of reading to your children will start to come to fruition. Having read them so many diverse stories and poetry books, you will have instilled in their minds a vast and colourful vocabulary; given them an understanding of grammar; sparked their curiosity, imagination and desire for learning and given them the key for understanding, empathising and communicating with the world and the people around them.
All these skills with help them as they settle into school, giving them the confidence to fit in and succeed; giving them the desire to make the most out of this new opportunity and do their very best – and to do so with genuine desire and enthusiasm – thus setting them on course to be successful, vibrant, understanding and confident school-agers, teenagers and adults.
All images copyright of Leila Bassir and Laughing Linnet Publications 2019