The lovely Jennifer Birch, who is a writer and strong advocate for childhood literacy contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if she could write a guest post for my blog. I happily obliged. Take it away Jenni……..
More than just a pastime, the importance of reading to your child is that it has more benefits than you’d expect.
Many of us share the fond memory of sitting with our moms and dads right before bed, snuggling with a book and reading stories about princesses trapped in castles and princes slaying dragons. The time we spent reading with our parents marked some of the happiest in our childhoods, and it probably helped you and your parents build some beautiful memories together.
Sadly, the past few years have seen fewer and fewer parents taking the time to read to their kids. In 2010, The Guardian reported that primary school teachers have found that a great deal of their students come to school without ever having been given the experience of being read stories to. Some children had no knowledge of traditional fairytales, and the only stories they were familiar with were the stories remade by Disney in their films.
One teacher responding to the survey asked, “Where are all the parents who sing and recite nursery rhymes to their children?” One might think that this has to do with social class – with parents just being too busy working to be able to read to their kids. However, Pie Corbett, who was working as an educational adviser to the British government at the time, said that, “This isn’t just an economic thing – it’s not just people who come from poor backgrounds, it’s across the whole of society. You get a lot of children coming from very privileged backgrounds who’ve spent a lot of time in front of the TV and not enough time snuggled up with a good book. The TV does the imagining for you – and it doesn’t care whether you’re listening or not.”
More than being busy with work, it seems that it’s other distractions that keep us from spending time with our kids to read them books. In an increasingly digital and technological age, it’s not uncommon to find parents allowing their kids to spend more time watching TV or surfing the web, rather than snuggling with a good book. In 2013, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) published the results of a survey done by Harris Interactive, which showed that “only one in three parents (33 percent) read bedtime stories with their children every night, and 50 percent of parents say their children spend more time with TV or video games than with books”.
Many parents fall under that impression that reading is something that’s only done to pass the time, and that the only benefit their kids gain from being read to is more bonding time with their parents. Because of this, they shun reading to their kids for activities like watching cartoons together or playing video games together. But being read to has more benefits for kids than you’d think, especially when it comes to their education.
“Research shows that children who are read to on a regular basis before they start school are most likely to succeed. “It’s a key predictor in terms of educational success,” added Corbett. Studies on the effects that reading has to children have shown that being read to doesn’t just make them more imaginative, helping them to develop abstract reasoning and creative thought, but it also gives them an edge when it comes to language proficiency. It’s through listening to the sounds made by their parents as they read new stories that kids learn how to articulate them, and to associate them with the different images on the books being read, as well as with the images they are creating in their minds as the story is told.
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child performed a study where parents were asked to read to their kids regularly even before the kids even developed their literacy skills – that is, young children such as infants and toddlers, who parents often don’t read to because they think that their kids can’t comprehend the stories being read to them. The study showed that by age 3, kids who were read to from a young age had significantly elevated language and cognitive scores than those who hadn’t. Early reading also helped kids grow their vocabulary, which prompted them to read even more, and grow their vocabulary further.
It seems reading to kids can also help them develop empathy. A blog post on Tootsa MacGinty said that the regular reading of books could “create empathy toward other people, because literature values humanity and celebrates human spirit and potential, offering insight into different lifestyles while recognising universality”, adding that this was a good excuse to pick up a book if ever you needed one. Once children grow older and more capable of comprehending the stories being read to them, they’re able to appreciate the individual problems of the characters, and relate to them as they become more invested in the stories.
Early reading to kids can also spark great reading habits that they’re sure to benefit from in the long run. Writing for Forbes, Jordan Shapiro says, “…my kids (6 and 8) also read a lot on their own. Not only because I require it–30 minutes of reading is a prerequisite to video game time–but also because their dad models good reading behaviors. Dad is always ordering new books; dad is always reading them.” But it matters even less that you have fewer books around, because technology has now presented a way to read without pulling out a book from a dusty shelf. E-readers and tablets also present a great alternative, and it’s not so much how the stories are being read, rather, it’s that they’re being read at all.
By Jennifer Birch
Jennifer Birch is a strong advocate of childhood literacy, and she has devoted much of her life to finding ways to help children make the most of the avenues for learning presented to them from an early age. For more tips on raising readers, visit her Google+ page.