The act of reading to young children improves their early literacy skills and language development, no question. There’s a tonne of research out there to support that. But I’m equally interested in the incidental byproducts of reading with young children, and how the dynamic of reading with a child from an early age can create a platform that allows for other – equally important – things to happen.
Here are five of those things, in no particular order:
1. A deeper parent-child relationship.
A recent Scholastic Inc study¹ found that the top reason children say they enjoy being read aloud to is that it’s a special time with their parents (78%). Next most popular reasons were ‘Reading together is fun’ (65%) then ‘It is relaxing to be read to before I go to sleep’ (48%).
Children love booktime because it provides focussed one-on-one time with their parent. That’s what matters to them. And as a parent, that’s what matters to me. Ultimately, picture books are simply the vehicle for the experience (albeit a bloody good vehicle).
Reading with your child allows you to jump into the flow of focussed interaction. Picture books create a platform for two-way discussion, laughter, expression, silliness, learning and fun. Built into a child’s day-to-day, booktime can soon become the framework for the strongest connective tissue of your relationship.
2. Encourage creative thinking.
Reading picture books allows you to be entirely present with the child. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but to be attentive to your child is to give them exactly what they love the most. Your child simply wants your attention!
They don’t want passive praise or platitudes, nor do they want a passive book-reading. Through an interactive style of reading with the child – rather than passively reading to – the parent can use their reading time to create decontextualised conversation.
By talking about the book beyond the words and images on the page, the parent can make connections with real-life experiences to relate the story to the child’s world. This gives the child the opportunity to think creatively, to make predictions and analyse the story through off-topic conversation. And in turn, it encourages the child to better understand their own world, improve creative thinking, social skills and even learn coping strategies.
3. Introduce a love of learning.
Teaching a child to associate books and learning with a positive experience can only be a good thing for their future engagement in education.
4. Improve self-awareness and self-esteem.
Beyond learning how stories are structured, children can learn more about their own personal narrative through shared book reading. Incidental conversation and off-platform interaction with the adult can help children gain a better understanding their own personal narrative, improving self-awareness, which is important for their self-esteem.
5. Art with ♥
Most children’s authors and illustrators don’t do it for the money, they are in it because they love to create art – whether stories, images or experiences. Picture books are often children’s first real interaction with art.
For me – after having a family – art is the best thing there is. Art is the very best reflection of the human condition, the most telling interpretation of what it means to be here, the product of our view of the world, since waaaay back.
To introduce art to a child’s life from an early age is to give them a better perspective and understanding of the world, and therefore a better chance of thriving in it.
¹ Take a peep at Scholastic’s excellent Kids & Family Reading Report – a biannual study into kids’ and parents’ attitudes towards reading.
A couple of the references in this post are more formally codified in the paper ‘Reading Aloud to Children: The Evidence’ (Aug 2008) by E Duursma, M Augustyn and B Zuckerman.