Reading aloud to children builds tools for life. And magic happens—they experience togetherness and a soothing, relaxing, rewarding magical time with you.
It’s good for parents, too.
I am a picture book writer, and reading aloud to children is important to me. And as a board member of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Waco, I know how vital reading out loud to children is—for so many reasons.
I recently attended a conference for the Imagination Library, and I learned just why, and I want to share the information with my Waco Moms.
And, I think everyone knows reading a book to a child is beneficial. Most of us know how bad screens are for all of us. (I have three in front of me right now!)
At the conference, I learned parents need to build an invisible toolbox to provide children with everything they need for kindergarten readiness. And beyond. The easiest and most powerful tool for your child is reading to them at least fifteen minutes a day from birth.
I remember reading to our children before bedtime. The day would melt away as we giggled and learned. Those are some of my cherished memories. And yes, there were times when I was exhausted, felt like I didn’t have time, or just didn’t want to read that night. But it never failed; we would all melt into the books, and my feelings of dread melted away.
Reading aloud is an act of love that a parent or grandparent can give their child. And reading to children provides them with love and the love of reading. Likewise, reading picture books to children provides the child with powerful, emotional lessons of talking and listening.
Also, reading to your children builds tools for them to read and write by understanding grammar and spelling skills. As a result, children gain knowledge that helps them understand and comprehend what they read—and developing comprehension and concentration skills needed for school. After all, paying attention is a life-long tool for success.
Being able to find joy anywhere is another tool reading provides and being able to entertain themselves. Imagination and curiosity grow while reading books.
There are also mental health benefits from being held by a loved one while reading daily. Picture books are chalked full of life lessons. As a writer, I learned early that I couldn’t be preachy or didactic in my picture book manuscripts. The lessons hide in giggles and heart emotions. Children learn compassion and how to be a good human in between pictures and words. And giggles.
Children also learn compassion because they see their adult dropping everything, including that device often connected to your fingers, when you take the time to read a story to them. They see and feel you have a tender moment bonding with them.
Reading to your children results in less harsh parenting because the parent and child tend to have less friction in their relationship. In addition, reading builds stronger emotional bonds, empathy, and self-regulation. And the result enriches relationships.
Picture books stimulate language and cognitive skills. Reading aloud to young children also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. Studies show reading to a child for 20 minutes a day exposes the child to 1.8 million words per year. The number of words goes down to 8000 if a child only reads one minute per day.
And reading aloud awakens the inner life of the child. They learn who they are and who they might want to be as adults.
Studies suggest that you should start reading to your child on day one. Day One! Some experts believe starting during pregnancy is a better idea. The reading voice is comforting to babies. Reading is a “psychological comfort” for babies, especially when it’s a mother’s voice.
A baby’s brain doubles in size in the first year of life, and by age three, the child’s brain is 85% larger, and it continues to grow. Toddlers are tiny sponges, taking everything in. Children who are read to have optimal brain development and to reading aloud to children, versus watching a video, is like Goldilocks—just right.
And as you read to a child, the white matter in their brain strengthens, and reading books with still pictures causes even stronger white matter. But more screen time equals weaker white matter in a preschooler.
Before covid, babies and toddlers averaged three hours a day in front of screens. That is 1/3 of their wakening day. I’m sure all children, and adults, increased screen time during the Covid year. I know I did.
Reading is an adventure. If you are a reader, you know you can escape into another world when you escape into a book. And books help children want to learn to read on their own.
Also, reading provides the child with a strong vocabulary. As you read a picture book to a child, she adds vocabulary by hearing the words and studying the pictures. Children’s picture books are a partnership between the author and illustrator, and the pictures are equally as important.
Most picture books published these days are under 500 words and 32 pages long. These shorter versions of books are due to parent’s shorter attention spans due to screen time. When I write a blog, I use shorter sentences and paragraphs for this very reason, leaving more white space. I like to read blogs and articles that are shorter, too. Thanks to the new digital age, we are used to getting information faster today.
Studies show that the attention span of a four-year-old depicts the success of the same child at 21-years-old and if they will graduate college, according to Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of THE ENCHANTED HOUR. Gurdon’s book uses neuroscience research to explore the cognitive and emotional benefits of reading aloud to small children.
To get more information about the benefits of reading to children and how harmful screen time is, also read The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence by Kim Jocelyn Dickson.
I learned most of the information I list in this blog post at the Imagination Library conference from two research authors mentioned above.
Magic happens when you read to your children out loud. Don’t miss out on the magic.