How Reading Helps Children's Development – 5 Reasons to Read to your Kids Every Day.
I’ve approached this subject before but there is so much to be said about it. In the past, though, I was more specific. Children’s books help our kids with so much more than just a few minutes of entertainment, whether it is picture books, or first chapter books or even full fledged young adult novels.
In my previous post, I was more specific, though. In it, I suggested that it doesn’t really matter what we read to our children. Even if they are four years old, there is no reason to stick only to picture books. My eldest is seven, my son is five and my youngest daughter is two years old and I am currently reading Anne of Green Gables to them. Sometimes they sit and listen, sometimes they just play quietly while I read, sometimes I have to yell at them so they keep quiet.
Whatever they are doing, they are hearing the words, and that’s no small feat.
So, without any more preamble, find below five ways in which reading helps your children.
1. Reading Improves Language Skills
If I’ve said this once, I’ve said this a million times. You can’t write if you don’t read. And the reason for that is that reading teaches you language. It teaches you more than a book full of grammatical rules and more than seven years of schooling.
I present you with evidence A: me!
You might or might not know that English is not my first language. It is actually my third. I am bilingual and, therefore, fluent in French and Spanish. Well, I am fluent in English now too.
Now, I am not going to say that my spoken English is what it is because of reading. It’s mostly because I live in the UK and I speak English every day. And movies, it’s a lot due to movies.
But my written English is definitely a product of my reading. Now, it is certainly not perfect, but it is much better than I could have achieved with my basic, school-taught English or any grammatical rules I might have memorized twenty years ago.
Now, that was the effect reading had on me, an adult. Imagine what reading (and hearing) all these new words can do for a young mind, which is open to all new knowledge. Even if they are not listening, they are hearing the words, the pace, and, for the youngest ones, the sounds, something that features prominently in the beginning of children’s school life.
Reading, whether the written words or listening to stories, exponentially improves the linguistic skills of all, but even more in children.
2. Reading Improves Concentration
Maybe not so much if your kids are playing around like mine do sometimes, but certainly when they are sitting and listening or, when they are a bit older, when they can read by themselves.
The effort required for them to read, when they are starting, is an excellent exercise in concentration. While adults recognize the words at a glance, children need to read one word at a time, sometimes one sound at a time. This moments in which they are trying to decipher each word are unique, as far as they are intent in discovering what the story says.
This later develops, if reading continues as a habit, into being completely transported by a story. My husband often says I disappear when I am reading. Which is true.
But that ability to ‘disappear’ is really just concentration and it translate to all tasks. Whether I am attending a lecture, or watching a documentary, or even watching a movie, I can focus on that and that alone and little else will distract me.
3. Reading is a Good Brain Exercise
Reading is a complex task for your brain. Now, as I said before, adults don’t read word by words. Through practice, we have learnt to recognize words by their length and shape. You might have seen, at some point, this photo on social media of a text where each word is jumbled, except the first and last letters. You might have been surprised to find you were still able to read the text in spite of that.
That is because reading has taught your brain to recognize words as patterns and unities instead of a group of individual letters. And it has done that by reinforcing existing connections in your brain and building new ones. This is how the brain learns.
And it’s true. Whenever I want to disconnect from the world, switch off, I don’t read, I watch TV. TV and moving images, talking voices, don’t engage your brain the way reading does, except in a sort of catatonic manner. Not that I am complaining, I love reading, but we all need to let our brain rest sometimes.
For children, their brains are blank canvasses in need of new connections. Reading will help with their ability to recognize patterns, form new thoughts, think for themselves and even better memory and better sleep.
Indeed, children who read (or are read to, depending on age), tend to do better in school.
4. Reading helps Mental Health
Now that we have reached a certain level of awareness about children’s mental health, this seems more important than ever.
Reading can help with depression, communication and even empathy. The way we relate to the world and the people in it can be affected by reading in a positive manner.
Reading provides an escape. The world might seem bleak and dark, but the sun is shining through the cherry trees of Avonlea.
The world might be uninteresting, lonely or boring, but Harry Potter will take you to a hundred adventures.
You might think you are alone in the world, nobody else is like you, but there is a book out there with a character who thinks just like you.
5. Finally, Reading is Fun
How many times do kids say they are bored? While nowadays they might prefer to sit and watch random people playing Minecraft on Youtube, luckily their tablets run out of battery fast by now.
And then it’s all ‘mummy, I’m bored’, no matter how many toys they got for Christmas or their birthdays.
I can only hope that my kids discover the adventures they can have just by opening a book. The first book that thrilled me was Momo, by Michael Ende and I would love to find a nice, English edition, something in hardcover, that I could keep and pass on to my children when they grow up because it’s a wonderful story.
And then it was Lord of the Rings, of course, because I am a geek. My father introduced me to it, too.
I can’t wait to see what books thrill my kids, what books will capture their imaginations, what books will have them talking about it like I talked to my mum and dad about Momo.
6. Bonus Benefit: Reading is Free.
And few things that are so rewarding and important are, nowadays.
Whether you can go to the library or you have a library bus coming to your community, or you have a phone or a tablet, there are hundreds of books that are in the public domain and, hence, that you are free to download at any time and read.
For little money, you can buy books in Charity Shops and, sometimes, for a donation of your choice, you can pick up second hand books on your way out of the supermarket or any other big shop.
You can register to mailing lists, like my own, and get a free Christmas story, or you can register to services like Freebooksy, which will e-mail you every day with free book offers for books of whatever genre takes your fancy.