I became a mom about 2 years ago. Oh man did it hit me like a train. I know the benefits of reading to children.
I know the benefits of reading to children from before they are even born and the benefits of reading to children at every age and stage.
I’ve earned a masters degree in early childhood education.
Dreaming of sitting in the floor, with my fresh new infant, while reading Brown Bear Brown Bear again and again.. ahh.. that was my love language.
But then, Gray was born.
So, between trying to figure out how to pee while holding him, (because he would scream the second I put him down) and trying to remember to eat something myself that day, the thought of Brown Bear Brown Bear just made me cry.
What the Textbooks Didn’t Tell Me About Reading to Children
When I finally was able to pick up a book and try reading to Gray, it was SO awkward.
The college textbooks didn’t tell me that my newborn would probably sleep through my story, and that was okay.
The textbooks didn’t tell me that 2 minutes of reading to an infant was normal.
They didn’t tell me that most children DON’T sit still while you read- and that it’s okay.
The textbooks also didn’t tell me that you shouldn’t stop reading to your child when they become an independent reader.
As parents, we always want what is best for our kids. We know there are benefits of reading to children, but what are those benefits?
Benefits of Reading to Babies
- Baby is soothed by hearing the sound of your voice
- Newborns can’t understand what you’re saying, but reading to babies helps them to pick up the rhythm and inflection of your voice
- Rhythm is an important early literacy skill
- Exposes baby to different types of emotions
- For example “Oh no! The dog fell and bumped his head!” versus “The monkey is SO happy that he got his banana! YAY!”
- Naturally, you will read these sentences differently. The first with sadness and the second with excitement. This teaches babies that certain words are associated with certain feelings.
How to Read to Babies
Remember NOT to overcomplicate this. It will probably feel awkward at first.
If your baby is in your lap, grab a book and start reading! You might only get 2 minutes in, but that’s NORMAL!
- Place your baby snuggly in your lap.
- Choose either a cloth book, or a board book with sturdy pages (Babies often put things in their mouth) and with colorful pictures
- Point to different pictures and say what you see- “dog! WOW! The dog says WOOF”
- You may only be able to read for a couple of minutes at a time, but keep books close by to try again at any chance you get.
Benefits of Reading to Toddlers and Preschoolers
Check out this post for a list of books specifically chosen for toddlers by early childhood experts.
- LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT– Toddlers are soaking up EVERYTHING you say at this age.
- Did you know children develop 85% of their core brain by age 5?? WHOA.
- Significantly improves their attention span– Especially needed in today’s world of immediate googlefication- I mean gratification
- Develops the skill of listening
- Did you know that children CANNOT read on their own until they learn HOW to listen?
- Helps them to navigate the challenges they have, by hearing characters navigate them in stories.
- scared to sleep in their own bed
- going potty in the big kid potty
- what to do when you’re angry
- Helps to prevent later reading problems in school
- Helps them to develop the MUST HAVE 5 pre-reading skills:
- Motivation to read
- Concepts of print- (Sami at Sunnyseed has an entire post about this topic)
- Language Skills
- Phonemic Awareness
- Letter Knowledge
- Prepares them for Kindergarten
- Kindergarteners are expected to enter knowing SO much more than when we entered Kindergarten years ago.
- Fosters their need for independence
- Toddlers need to be given choice- give them a choice of 3-4 books and let them choose
- Builds a much larger vocabulary
- “Children that have been read to daily by parents, enter Kindergarten knowing about 1.4 million MORE words than children that have not been read to by parents.”
- Helps them understand how to empathize by listening to how characters react to situations
- Helps them sleep better at night, according to the Mayo Clinic
- Creates a love of reading
How to Read to Active Toddlers that Won’t Sit Still
- Allow them to play with something while they listen
- Keep reading, even if they wander off- they are still hearing the words
- Make funny sounds and noises throughout the story to keep their attention
- Read with A LOT of expression
- DON’T force it!
- If they want to switch to a different story in the middle of one, do it! Follow their lead.
What Age do I Stop Reading to My Child?
YOUR CHILD IS NEVER TOO OLD TO BE READ TO. IT WILL NOT HINDER THEIR INDEPENDENT READING IF YOU READ TO THEM INSTEAD.
One of the biggest concerns by parents when I taught third grade was that the child wasn’t reading on their own, therefore they weren’t reaping the benefits.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Regardless of their reading ability- from struggling reader to independent reader- reading to children in elementary school (and even through middle and high school) has MAJOR benefits.
Benefits of Reading Aloud to Older Kids
- Allows them to practice “visualizing,” – a skill that readers have to be TAUGHT
- This means creating pictures in your head for what you think the character / scene looks like
- Models what a fluent reader should sound like
- If struggling readers only ever hear themselves reading, then how will they know what a fluent reader should sound like?
- Allows them to experience books above their reading level
- I had an eighth grade English teacher that read those insanely hard (Shakespeare type) books that I never would have been able to read on my own– but when she read them aloud to our class, I can still hear the voices for each character.
- Allows them to enjoy a story without having to decode the words
- This is especially important for struggling readers. We want them to enjoy stories, but if they struggle to read, they may not get that experience unless they hear a book read aloud.
- Exposes them to new vocabulary words that they may not get if they were reading a book on their “level” of understanding
- Helps to relax your child’s eyes– especially in today’s world of non-stop screens
- Provides an escape for your child while listening to an interesting story, while giving them something to look forward to each day
- Shows your child that you view reading as important, and they should, too.
How long should I read to my child?
Experts have proven that reading 20 minutes per day is the key to your child becoming a successful reader.
But, those 20 minutes DO NOT have to be read all at one time. You can break them up into chunks throughout the day.
In short, research has proven that starting in Kindergarten, if a child reads 20 minutes per day, they are exposed to 1.8 million words.
So back to my life as a new mom- it’s the hardest job in the world.
However, with a little growth from both myself (using the tips above) and my little tag-along, we finally get the chance to read Brown Bear Brown Bear.. again and again.. and again.
What are your biggest struggles with reading to your children? Let me know in the comments!