By: Sarah Strobel, Play Coordinator
Children's Museum in Oak Lawn
How many things do you read in one day? It goes without saying that phones have given us access to a wealth of information at our fingertips. You have most likely read a news article or an article on social media within the last day or so. But, when did you last read a book...for fun?
We often hear children say they hate reading and yet adults say they can’t find the time or motivation to read. Since February is “I Love to Read” month, we think it's important to understand why reading needs to be a bigger part of your day, no matter your age.
Reading to Babies & Toddlers
As parents, it can be challenging to find the time to fit in household responsibilities along with things we would like to do with our children. However, taking at least a short time out of your day to read to your children should be a priority.
Parents with children of all ages, even babies, should make reading together part of their routine, because it has impact. In fact, researchers found that babies made more speech-like sounds during reading than during puppet or toy play. Therefore, due to the fact that babies respond more to this activity, they are most likely learning more.
One of the most well-known benefits of reading is that it builds language skills. A recent study found that parents or caregivers who read to young children are giving them a language advantage of eight months. It is important to keep in mind though that there are books that are more likely to help your child’s education than others.
How would you describe the characteristics of the books you read to your young child? They most likely include a lot of pictures and one word per page in a large font. We can argue that books like these help young children increase comprehension. However, books with simple sentences are actually more impactful in early development. By reading books with more than just a few words per page, children begin to understand sentence structure, for example.
Children not only gain social skills when they are spoken to, but they learn different words. Books are a great tool to help parents in this way by introducing vocabulary naturally. One study found that babies whose parents spoke to them a lot scored higher on standard tests at age three than children whose parents weren't as verbal.
By instilling positive reading habits in your young child, you are also helping to build their knowledge in other subjects, like math. However, stories do more than entertain or help with language skills. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that books develop how children perceive reality. Studies have shown that children develop their perspectives on aspects of identity such as gender and race before five years old. Therefore, the books that your child is introduced to can change how they think about such aspects.
Additionally, placing an emphasis on reading in your household has more than just educational benefits. Reading together gives parents and children an opportunity to bond – especially one-on-one. This time together allows parents to get to know what their child likes or what scares them. If you would like to engage your child while you are reading aloud, consider asking them questions. Many times children will also ask clarifying questions while a story is being read to them, which presents a teachable moment.
Consider asking your child:
· What do you think is going to happen? Why?
· Why do you think (character) is sad/mad? How do you think (character) feels?
· What would you do? Do you think (character) did the right thing?
· Have you or a friend dealt with a similar situation?
· Do you think this story had a lesson to teach us? What was it?
Asking questions such as these opens a dialogue between you and your child. When you ask your child what they would do, it allows them to reflect inward. You may find this as a great time to discuss possible solutions in case they deal with something similar. Furthermore, these questions build upon the impact that stories can have on our brains and developing a child’s empathy and emotion.
Another benefit that stories provide is giving readers the opportunity to connect to real-life circumstances. Consider the impact of reading a book that deals with the subject of bullying. If a character is bullied in the story, young readers can learn how bullying makes others feel. Therefore, it might make them less likely to pick on children themselves. Children may also learn not only that they should be compassionate to children who are bullied but kind things they can do.
By asking questions such as the ones above, you can help your child benefit further from the reading material. For example, making predictions about character’s emotions or what is going to happen helps them make conclusions from context clues.
Reading to School-Age Children (Ages 5+)
It is easy to see why parents or caregivers should make an effort to read books to young children. But, once children are old enough to read by themselves, parents often leave kids to read independently. In fact, the tendency of parents to read aloud to their child drops significantly after children reach the age of 5 and again after age 8. However, while it's great to encourage independence and to have some extra time to yourself, there are many benefits to reading together even at these ages.
Older children can use their parents' help when reading for fun because after the age of eight the percentage of children who say reading books for fun is extremely or very important drops. By carving time out of the day to read it will let children see that it is something that is important to you.
At an older age, stories give children the opportunity to be more creative by encouraging them to exercise their imagination. More often than not, illustrations tend to disappear from books written for older audiences. Although the pictures tend to disappear, authors begin to give more of a description of characters, places or objects. Despite the descriptions giving readers an idea of what the author wants them to see, there is still plenty left up to the reader’s imagination.
In fact, a 1984 study found that a child’s reading level is not the same as their listening level until approximately eighth grade. This means that young readers can comprehend complex stories and understand them better when an adult reads them aloud compared to when they read independently.
One of the first things you may notice when you are involved in your child’s reading habits is what they enjoy. Once your child finishes reading one book series, it may spark ideas of what next book series to start with them. However, if your child only reads certain types of books, you may pick something they might not choose themselves. This is a great way to encourage your child to “not judge a book by its cover”. By actively taking a part in your child’s reading, you will know that they will finish the new book. Overall, this is a great lesson that translates over when they meet new people who may seem different.
Setting Up a Reading Routine
There may be days where there is simply too much going on to make the time to read with your child. If this happens, do not get discouraged. If you don't think you will be able to keep a reading routine, consider getting your child to help. For example, mention to them a goal you have of how many books you want to read together in one month. After setting a goal, let your child know that if this goal is reached there will be a reward for both of you to do something else fun together. By mentioning this goal to your child, you will feel more accountable to develop the habit or complete the goal. Also, if you’ve heard your child say they hate reading, an incentive might be just what they need to be more open to reading a book.
Ultimately, by getting your child more involved, it makes them look forward to reading and they may take initiative as well. For example, instead of you needing to initiate story time, your child may remind you that it’s time to read. Perhaps the best time to plan on reading with your child is before bed to give them time to calm down so they can fall to sleep easier. It also makes it easier to get them away from screens before bed.
Reading to your child at an early age definitely sets them up for future success. In fact, according to analyses of the PISA exam (Programme for International Student Assessment), which is given to 15-year-olds worldwide, the biggest factor influencing higher scores was whether or not a child was read to on a regular basis when they were young.
Reading as Adults
There are always new things to learn even as adults, and therefore we should be reading too! One of the most well-known benefits that reading books gives to young children (new vocabulary) is applicable to adults as well.
First of all, teenagers and adults can benefit emotionally from taking time to sit down with a book. This is because books can allow readers to escape from reality by transporting them to a different place. When compared to other activities used for stress relief such as listening to music, reading a book works better and faster. In addition to emotional benefits, there are health advantages as well. One important thing to know is you do not need to set aside a significant amount of time to read a day to reap the benefits. In fact, those that read regularly for as little as half-an-hour a day can add two years to their life.
As we age, we begin to think seriously about the decline of our brain and memory. Although it may seem like a natural part of life, books can possibly help. For example, adults who develop the habit of reading regularly may see it begin to slow the decline of their brain function.
Ultimately, we know that children follow the example of those that they are around most. Therefore, if you want your child to read, you must be a role model and take the time to do so yourself. One issue that keeps students from meeting expected reading levels is accessibility to books. More than half of parents in one study claimed that they have less than fifty books at home. If you find that there aren’t many books around your home, make it a routine to regularly visit the library with your child. Don’t forget to pick up some reading material for yourself as well!
Do you and your children have a set time to read together? What are some of your family’s favorite books to read together?