Reading to Kids : Why Books Still Matter

Redbook

Extra, extra: Even in this Internet age, kids still need books — and for you to turn the pages with them. Here's how to fit reading into your daily routine, and why it's so crucial for both of you.

As a lifelong lover of books, I always looked forward to sharing the joy of reading with my own children someday. So when my daughter was barely a month old, I sat down and read to her for the first time, snuggling her in one arm with a copy of Guess How Much I Love You in the other. And... nothing. Rose goggled at me blankly, as 4-week-old bundles of baby mush do, and I felt more than a little silly.

Fast forward two and a half years, and reading is now one of our most beloved shared activities. Turns out, it's had real benefits for both of us. We've all heard about how children who are read to often become stronger students. But reading also benefits kids in ways that aren't directly measured by grades and test scores. "It really does help develop key pieces of brain architecture," says Kim Davenport, senior vice president of education and programs for Jumpstart, a national early-education organization. "When children are engaged with a story, they're learning to understand the world around them. They're developing vocabulary, critical thinking, and other crucial literacy and language skills."

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A Parent's Guide to Reading
to Your Young Child

That's true for even the youngest children. A study at the University of Kansas found that the more 10- to 18-month-old children were read to, the larger their vocabularies. And reading gives kids more than just a pocket full of words, says Susan Neuman, Ed.D., a professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan and author of A Parent's Guide to Reading to Your Young Child. "They're learning about knowledge, that print represents ideas," Neuman explains. "They also learn to pay attention and focus, which is very important for self-regulation and school success." Even in the Internet age, books provide benefits no screen can give: They contain a richer, more complex vocabulary than any other medium, Neuman says.

Beyond the developmental and academic benefits, parents and experts alike say that reading together, whether your child is 13 months or 13 years old, is a wonderful way to bond. In reading aloud, parents tend to slow down their speech in the same way they would when speaking to a baby. "That 'motherese' is very soothing," Neuman says. "Combine that with one-on-one attention and a child develops a great sense of intimacy."

Here's how families make reading a priority — and a pleasure:

"I know that reading to my two kids helps them learn, but that's not my main motivation. For me, it's more about the cuddle time. I am a working mom, so there's not a lot of time to just sit with the kids. Reading books forces me to slow down, point out interesting things about the pictures, or ask my kids questions about the stories. It makes them smile, which of course makes me smile."
—Allison Ellis, 39, Seattle

"I am a mother of two teenage girls and still read to them in the evenings. It helps us maintain that close mother-daughter bond, and when problems with peers surface, it helps solidify that as a parent, I will always love them unconditionally."
—Dawn Lee Snell, 48, Reno, NV

"Reading with my two boys at bedtime is one of my favorite activities. This summer, I began reading to Jordan and Jackson from the Little House series. The boys are fascinated by Laura Ingalls's life — imagine playing with a pig-bladder balloon after your dad shot a hog!"
—Dena Dyer, 38, Fredericksburg, TX

"When my kids were young, they were up early — before 6:30 a.m. Mornings became our reading time. Now they're 11 and 14; I've gone back to work, and my kids are busy with school, sports, and friends. But I still 'read them awake' every single morning for 20 minutes — often they eat breakfast during this time. Most days I hear, 'Just one more page!'"
—Sandy Diaz, 42, Yardley, PA

Goodnight Moon

"I've been reading to my son, Preston, since he was born. I keep the more rousing, silly books on the bookshelf for daytime, while soothing stories like Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are in a special book drawer by his bed. I make the books as interactive as possible. In The Runaway Bunny, we gently blow air at each other during the part about the mother becoming the wind."
—Melissa James, 30, Hampton, VA

"For Halloween, the 'book fairy' comes and delivers books to the kids if they give away their candy. We started this when they were little, and they get so excited to see the book they received. It's made a big difference in our dental bill!"
—Meena Kapur, 37, Irvine, CA

"My 5-year-old and I have read together every night since before he was born. Some nights it's a newspaper — we learn about different cultures, travel locations, even look at the classifieds. He gets a kick out of what people are trying to sell."
—Toni Henry, 44, Port Orange, FL

"I have been reading to my daughter every night since she was a 2.5-pound preemie in the NICU. Her nurses say the sound of my voice actually helped her with her respiratory and cognitive issues. Today she is a happy, healthy, and intelligent 6-year-old, and I credit a lot of that to our reading time."
—Megan Kelley Hall, 35, Swampscott, MA

"My husband is in the U.S. Navy and deploys frequently. We recorded him reading stories for our 3-year-old, and she and I watch the videos when he's gone, following along with the book. We also read together through our webcam. It's a great way to keep her connected to her dad when he's gone."
—Lissa McGrath, 28, Oak Harbor, WA

"We spend quite a bit of time at the store letting the kids pick what they want. They'll read the inside jacket or flip through the pages. Sometimes my youngest son and I will read through several books until he finds just the right one. Their personalities really come through in the books they choose."
—Julie Parrish, 35, West Linn, OR

The Berenstain Bears
Visit the Dentist

"My kids won't readily open up about bullying or problems at school. But if we read about characters, like the Berenstain Bears, that are facing certain issues, they will immediately chime in about similar things they have seen or experienced."
—Sophia Chiang, 40, San Francisco

"My son struggled with reading. We tried to spend 15 minutes every night doing it together without interruptions. I'd set the kitchen timer, then he would read a page (sometimes laboriously) and I would read one. We tried to choose books he was interested in — I learned a lot about baseball! One of my favorite moments came when we were reading the kids' edition of Marley and Me and we both ended up crying at the end. When we went to see the movie, he grabbed my hand and said, 'Mom, the book was better!' It was one of my proudest mom moments."
—Colleen Dunlavy, 43, Homewood , IL

 

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