Benefits to Reading to Children Early and Often

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The mom and her daughter had just nestled into bed for the daughter’s bedtime story. The mother wrapped her arm around her daughter and began to read from Wild About Books by Judy Sierra.

The mom’s voice lifted and dipped at the sounds of the rhymes as she read, “In a flash, every beast in the zoo was stampeding. To learn all about this new something called reading.”

The daughter’s eyes skipped about the pictures on the page. Occasionally, she would stop her mom to point out the giraffe or gnu in the book. Both the mom and daughter were totally engaged in the activity.

The act of reading to young children has a host of benefits for both children and parents. Reading books allows for parents and children to spend time together on a common pursuit. This time together enhances children’s attachments to their parents. It also exposes children to language and a rich and diverse vocabulary.

Books that rhyme are excellent in helping children get the rhythms of language, including the formation of sentences. This is one reason why Dr. Seuss books are so popular. Reading a rhyming book aloud feels different from other types of reading as the words have a musical flow to them.

The early exposure to reading gives children the literacy skills they will need when they enter school. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be read to from birth through kindergarten.

It is important for children to have access to a variety of books and to be read to often. When this occurs, there are significant changes that occur in the brain. The brain areas of children who were read to often as youngsters had greater activity in the areas that support narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Both of these areas are important for learning language and reading. Children who were not read to regularly have lower levels of development in those areas of the brain.

Now parents of young children have to decide on what exactly to read to their children. One important consideration is to make sure that parents are comfortable with the content of the book and that they like it. When parents like a book, their enthusiasm shows through when reading the book to the child. The child will then pay more attention to the content since her parents like it as well.

It doesn’t hurt for parents to also like the sound of the words of the book they will be reading to their children. Odds are that if children like the book, parents will probably be reading it often. Parents should try reading a book out loud before reading it to children to make sure it wears well for both the reader and the listener.

Finally, parents should make sure that the book has something to keep young children’s attention like a hidden illustration or particular phrase. The more children are engaged while being read to, the more likely they will take to reading.

Reading early and often to young children benefits parent-child attachments and better prepares children to learn to read. The website Reading Rockets has excellent information on a variety of books that are appropriate for young children. If there is a little one in your household, take a moment and get out a few children’s books and sit down and read to them.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on August 16, 2015

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