In a recent survey, one in three parents said that they read bedtime stories with their children every night. However, over half the parents said that their kids spend more time with video games and television than with books, and an alarming percentage of families do not have any books in their home at all.
Reading to your kids is not just a pleasant thing to do – it’s critical to their development. They will be better prepared to start school, and one they’re in school, they will learn faster and do better in the long run. Moreover, a daily reading ritual, particularly at bedtime, also helps with emotional growth and can be good for you as a parent as well. Here’s why:
1. A calm evening ritual helps get kids ready to sleep. After the usual chaos of the day, which often includes television shows or video games that can wind a child up, spending 10-15 minutes simply being still and listening to a story helps your child calm down. Focusing on a restful activity slows his mind down and his body relaxes at the same time. Parents often find that this habit has the same calming effect on them. Time spent this way divides the active part of the day from the night’s rest and helps your child make that transition.
2. Looking at a book while someone reads it helps get kids ready to read. Think about everything a child is taking in when looking at a book, even before they know how to read. She is learning what letters look like and that words are made of groups of letters. She sees that pages are read from left to right and top to bottom — basic stuff, but no one just knows it automatically! It has to be learned before one can even attempt to read. In addition, reading helps your child learn new vocabulary words and some of the differences between spoken and written language.
3. Reading helps build a child’s imagination. When a child watches a television show, the story is all there for him. He just watches and takes it in without having to engage his brain. When reading a book or having a book read to him, however, he has to bring his own effort to the process. He has to have a picture in his head of what is happening, creating the experience in his mind. Children who enjoy being read to also enjoy looking at books on their own, using their mind and memory to retell themselves the story.
4. Reading helps children learn about their world. Children’s books, especially picture books, often reinforce the familiar events of a child’s world: going to bed, going to school, habits of hygiene and nutrition, etc. Seeing characters in a book take baths, brush teeth, and say goodnight to toys gives a context for her own daily routine. Other books can teach her about things she has not yet encountered, such as going to a new school, visiting a zoo or a museum, or traveling on an airplane.
5. Reading with your children strengthens your bond with them. Bedtime reading means that the last event in your child’s day is a few moments of peaceful, calm time with mom or dad. If a book raises questions for the child, he can ask them. A story can also give you a chance to talk with your child about a concern you have. Most of all, it builds an emotional connection and allows an opportunity to end the day with some parental affection and cuddle time.