Why reading to children is so important
Television, touch screens, technology. They are time savers, life savers, entertainers and occasional child pacifiers – all rolled into one. And I wouldn’t go back for a second. But even with all the advances of the digital age there is simply no substitute –intellectually, emotionally or developmentally – for reading to your child.
In fact, reading aloud to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. At a physical level, it is absolutely critical for healthy development, particularly from an early age. Children are developing neural pathways connected to sound, hearing and speech. Reading to them helps them to hear, identify and play with individual sounds. This is why it is never too early to start. Even infants are developing the essential building blocks to make the spoken sounds which evolve into language. Reading to young children is critical to acquiring basic speech skills.
Reading also helps children start to develop abstract thinking and problem solving. Kids will often want to start reading the story to you long before they actually know how to recognise or pronounce words. This is all part of the magic – they are applying logic and interpreting images which is great for their developing minds.
At an emotional level, setting aside quiet time with your little one is a beautiful thing for building a stronger relationship with you. You are also laying the foundation for your child to enjoy a life-long relationship with books. Studies have confirmed that literacy contributes to academic excellence, confidence and career success. At the same time, children are learning how to sit and focus which teaches them concentration and discipline – other essential skills for positive school experiences and a productive adult life.
To make reading time enjoyable, pick books which are appropriate to the age of your children. For really young ones, books with bigger pictures and less text are best. Books which play on the rhythm of words, have lots of repetition, rhyming or patterns are great learning tools too and help to keep kids engaged. As the child gets older, stories which are more involved are appropriate.
Be playful when you read to your child. Make the noise of the farmyard animals or truck or aeroplane and encourage them to join in with you. Ask your child questions from time to time – such as ‘why did the cat hide from the dog?’, to engage their imaginations and comprehension. Let them take over the reading of the book if they want to – they are creating stories straight from their imagination – although don’t expect it to make much sense! And don’t worry if they want you to read the same book day in day out. There is more than one parent out there who can recite the entire story of Hairy Maclary blindfolded! It’s just about encouraging your child to have fun with books.
With so many essential benefits, reading to your child from a young age is something that you both should look forward to. The key is to make is a positive experience. Snuggle up with your child on their bed or on the couch – anywhere comfortable – since reading is a great opportunity to spend some quality, and affectionate, time together. You will be sowing the seed for a lifetime of memories and life-long love affair with books so make the most of it!
Anthony Smith is the Chief Operating Officer of an Australian childcare management company, Guardian Early Learning Group. As a parent himself, Anthony recognises the importance of reading to children allowing them the freedom to thrive and in an educational and nurturing environment.