Read to children and transport them away….
Why is it so important for us to keep reading with our children for as long as possible?
Do you remember as a kid hiding under the covers, reading a good book by the light of a torch when it was several hours past your bedtime? A book can transport a child away from anything troubling them, letting their imaginations run wild while developing their compassion and concentration. Reading has been found to be the most effective way to reduce stress levels – beating listening to music, or even the old favourite, a good cup of tea. Studies have also found that “reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both in vocabulary, spelling and mathematics.”
Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.
When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age.
As young people’s attitudes towards reading reflect their experiences of reading at home and at school in childhood and beyond, providing an enjoyable shared reading experience at home can help to turn our children into life-long readers.
However, not all shared reading experiences are enjoyable. Some children described having poor quality experiences of being read to, and children did not typically enjoy reading to distracted or overly critical parents. In some cases, parents attempted to outsource this responsibility to older siblings, with mixed results.
While many children really enjoyed the social aspects of reading and being read to as valuable time with their parents, they also felt that they learned from these experiences. For example, listening was felt to provide an opportunity to extend vocabulary, and improve pronunciation.
Research suggests that we should not stop reading with our children just because they have learned to read independently.
We should continue reading with our children until they no longer wish to share reading with us, ensuring that these experiences are enjoyable, as they can influence children’s future attitudes toward reading, as well as building their confidence and competence as readers. It is worth the effort to find time to share this experience with our children in the early years and beyond.
For anyone in the vastly busy day-to-day, having some time to read together perhaps at the end of the day can create a space for the kind of meeting of minds between parent and child which is developmentally so helpful to children.
We take being able to focus for granted. Yet small children need to learn this skill, and they learn best when ‘trained’ by someone they care about.
Reading for pleasure with children (going through a book together, talking about it, looking at the pictures) now has solid research evidence showing that it can improve language development and capacity for paying attention and also social and emotional outcomes.
Some recent studies in a deprived township community in South Africa found important differences in 18-month old infants whose parents were trained and supported in sharing books with them: they showed significantly increased vocabulary and understanding of words, and were better at showing sustained attention. They were also more able to show ‘prosocial’ behaviour – helpful behaviours, and showing caring for others.
In Scotland a shared reading programme is being launched after a charity claimed 13,000 children a year leave primary school in Scotland unable to read fluently.
The Scottish Book Trust says the pupils risk struggling in later life.
The charity has launched a campaign to help struggling or reluctant readers in 50 schools across the country.
It will involve older pupils reading to younger children and aims to “build their reading skills, confidence and enjoyment of books and stories”.
Nicola Sturgeon last year launched her own First Minister’s Reading Challenge designed to encourage children to read for pleasure and develop a life-long love of books.
Ms Sturgeon said at the time: “Encouraging children to read for pleasure not only helps our young people develop vital language and literacy skills, but also opens up a whole new world of adventure and fun through the exciting and varied range of books suggested.”
Here are just some reasons why reading to young children is important:
Better communication skills. When you spend time reading to toddlers, they’ll be much more likely to express themselves and relate to others in a healthy way. By witnessing the interactions between the characters in the books you read, as well as the contact with you during story time, your child is gaining valuable communication skills.
Mastery of language. Early reading for toddlers has been linked to a better grasp of the fundamentals of language as they approach school age.
More logical thinking skills. Another illustration of the importance of reading to children is their ability to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic in various scenarios, recognize cause and effect, and utilize good judgment. As your toddler or preschooler begins to relate the scenarios in books to what’s happening in his own world, he’ll become more excited about the stories you share.
Acclimation to new experiences. As your child approaches a major developmental milestone or a potentially stressful experience, sharing a relevant story is a great way to help ease the transition. For instance, if your little one is nervous about starting preschool, reading a story dealing with this topic shows her that her anxiety is normal.
Enhanced concentration and discipline. Toddlers may initially squirm and become distracted during story time, but eventually they’ll learn to stay put for the duration of the book. Along with reading comprehension comes a stronger self-discipline, longer attention span, and better memory retention, all of which will serve your child well when she enters school.
The knowledge that reading is fun! Early reading for toddlers helps them view books as an indulgence, not a chore. Kids who are exposed to reading are much more likely to choose books over video games, television, and other forms of entertainment as they grow older.