It might sound like an exaggeration, but reading to kids really is one of the best things you can do for their development - more so than sensory play or extra-curricular classes or lessons. Reading to children helps their speech and language development, as you might guess, but it also works wonders for their growth in so many other ways. Read below on how you can easily incorporate reading into your child’s routine, no matter your own reading habits.
The benefits of reading to your kids
Firstly, reading aloud to a child has enormous benefits for their speech and language development. Children learn to talk by watching our mouths shape out words and sounds, and later, reading (especially from a wide range of books) helps kids encounter new words and expand their vocabulary.
Reading books from a range of topics also helps children increase emotional intelligence - stories can help kids imagine worlds and situations different from their own, which helps build compassion and empathy. It also helps build their imagination and critical reasoning as they learn new behaviours and narratives.
Perhaps best of all, bedtime stories help children cement their bond with you and build their sense of security - no matter how busy or turbulent a day they have, they can rely on a routine of winding down with you before sleep. Building secure foundations in this simple way does amazing things for a child’s innate confidence, and this has knock-on consequences for their risk-taking, willingness to try new things, and sense of adventure. In fact, studies have shown that one-to-one time with parents makes a bigger difference to a child’s life outcomes than selective schooling.
It’s also a wonderful way to wind down after a busy spell, and requires very little preparation or effort.
Some tips for reading to your kids
Find a time that works for you. They’re called bedtime stories for a reason… but it doesn’t have to be bedtime! The whole point is to find a time when you can be wholly present and give the stories and kids your attention. It’s not just about getting through the book, but about using it to start a conversation, giving time for their mind to wander, answer their questions. If that’s easier to do at bath time, or first thing in the morning, roll with it!
Find age-appropriate books. You can read to babies right from babyhood. Initially the words you sound out and the rhymes and repetition will be far more important, but as they grow, kids will gain interest in the pictures, spotting patterns, and more. Pretty soon, it will be all about the narrative - have fun with the characters’ voices and acting out funny situations. The Book Trust has some great age-specific lists of books you can get inspiration from before planning a trip to the library.
Use the books to start conversations. You’d be amazed how many ways the same book can be read over and over again, and still lead to a whole multitude of conversations - about how characters acted, or the weather, or something that happened at school that day (in real life!). Give your kid plenty of time to let their mind wander as you read, to pause to answer questions, and to let them work things out as they talk. If they’re not so forthcoming, then you can use the book for prompts - from spotting things in the pictures through to why an event happened.
Be prepared to repeat books, but it’s okay to break the monotony. Kids LOVE to read the same books again and again. And each time, they can get something new out of it. You can emphasise new things each time! But also if the thought of cracking out Thomas and Friends for the sixth time in a week is too much, it’s okay to ask your child to choose between two other books they like!
Enjoy! Kids are hilarious. Get silly with the book sometimes - act out a sunflower growing out of the ground - and watch their joy!