Updated: Sep 23, 2022
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 Issue of First Time Parent Magazine
By Joanne Foster, Ph.D.
“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Words are magical. They intertwine, collide, fuse, and reassemble, and with the push of a pen or the tap of a keyboard, they transform themselves into poetry, plays, lyrics, legends, memoirs, theories, fairy tales, and grand adventures.
Stories read aloud with children offer a wealth of opportunities for them to experience sounds, gaze at pictures, and make countless connections. Reading together promotes closeness. Reading is also foundational for brain-building. Children’s brains grow rapidly, and neural pathways develop as children respond to external influences— including environments and experiences. Storytimes and reading enjoyment can be catalysts for learning by enriching those ever-shifting environments and day-to-day experiences. There’s little doubt that reading (lots, together, independently, aloud) intensifies children’s understandings of people, places, and things. Dr. Seuss expressed it aptly and succinctly with this short rhyme: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you go.”
Words can transform lives. They have the power to influence and to change the way people think and act. The written word can, admittedly, be negative or positive, but when put together, messages convey all manner of life lessons and present endless possibilities from whence people (of all ages) can acquire knowledge. Reading is recreational and enriching.
For children, books are portals into new and exciting realms—past, present, future, distant, and wherever the mind or imagination chooses to go. That could be anywhere! For parents, books are like a record or study of humankind, offering pleasure and also information, and providing reassurance, strategies, guidance, and intellectual capital. Indeed, parents who read and show a love of reading are well-positioned to influence their children’s reading habits and to convey why reading has value.
THE VALUE OF READING
“Reading is perhaps the most powerful means of learning and a stimulating and close-at-hand way to find out about the world and all that it has to offer. Kids can read by themselves, but it’s also important to read aloud to them. That will help to build their knowledge base, increase their vocabulary, set the tone for life-long reading, and foster connectivity. Make time for reading aloud.”
~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids
Here are some sensible reasons why parents should prioritize reading with their little ones:
1. Bonding – Reading helps parents and children connect as they cuddle, talk about the material, share observations about illustrations, and experience the nuances and dynamics of a story together.
This kind of close interaction can be formative, reassuring, and strengthens a child’s contentment. (And, parents’ too.) It also serves to pique a child’s interests and nurtures learning, a sense of mastery, and enjoyment. It makes good sense for parents to enable reading opportunities within the family, and to make the experiences pleasurable. This can lead to fulfillment.
2. Calm – Life is hectic, and reading can be a welcome respite in an otherwise busy day. Reading can be a time for settling down, relaxation, comfort, and reflection.
3. Reflection – Reflective habits of mind contribute to skill-building, coping mechanisms, reasoning, social-emotional health, and general well-being. It’s important to encourage children to think about written words and illustrations—to pay attention to the messages, to process them thoughtfully—and thereby reinforce their reflective capacities.
4. Enhanced neural paths – The brain is always changing, and reading is a stimulus that can augment brain development. Encouraging and responding to children’s sounds, giggles, playful body movements, and actions are all positive ways to promote brain activity. No two brains are alike (this is often referred to as neurodiversity), and no two lived experiences are alike either. Make the moments matter, and energize children’s brain cells by continuing to read, talk, listen, and respond meaningfully as little ones get older.
5. Communication – Reading can promote a child’s language development, instill respect for ideas, help to dispel assumptions, stimulate sound discrimination, and foster understandings of grammar, word structure, inferences, metaphors, and the richness of vocabulary, inquiry, and imagery.
6. Creativity – Stories are like enlightening gateways. They are the result of creative endeavors and can, in turn, inspire children’s creative expression. Books feature diverse themes, problem-solving strategies, innovative perspectives, and more. And, one person’s creative juices can fuel another’s. Creative expression has many benefits for children, helping to fortify resilience, productivity, enthusiasm, and curiosity. (For more on creativity and kids, check out my articles at The Creativity Post.)
7. Self-satisfaction – Reading—and by extension, learning—helps children satisfy their drive to understand their world, as well as worlds beyond their immediate milieu that might otherwise be inaccessible. Reading can support intellectual stimulation by opening channels into different and exciting domains, such as art, music, sciences, drama, and history.
8. Emotional strengths – Books touch upon emotions, and fictional characters can be like virtual friends who help children better understand feelings, actions, and ways of thinking. When children identify with a protagonist, or with what happens in a book, it can guide their thoughts, helping them to become more discerning, and suggesting possibilities for application to their own lives and for building confidence and overcoming challenges.
FIVE TIPS FOR PARENTS
“Always look on the bright side of life. Otherwise, it’ll be too dark to read.”
~ Author Unknown
1. Ensure adequate light, and a suitable time and space. Having a well-lit, satisfying, comfy reading spot, and ample time to “get into” a book, can make a child’s reading experience more satisfying. Routines are good (for example, reading before bed, or on weekend mornings) but kids can also learn to capitalize on fragments of time that might become available during their day. Encourage them to keep one or more books handy, perhaps tucked in a corner or inside a knapsack. And, they can create a “wish list” of books based on what friends may be reading, stories suggested by adults they trust, or specific topics of interest.
2. Facilitate book access. Make the most of neighborhood libraries. Share books. Arrange for book exchanges with friends and relatives. Create a network to get kids together for weekly story hours, book readings, and creative follow-up activities. Help kids find books on subjects that appeal to them, such as holidays, dragons, bulldozers, animals, or whatever sparks the imagination. Encourage them to discover well-known authors (for example, Robert Muncsh, A. A. Milne, Laura Numeroff, Sandra Boynton), or new or less celebrated writers. Ask a librarian for assistance. If a particular book is a hit, investigate together in order to see what else that author has written, or what might be available in that genre. (Also, consider having a look at the New York Public Library’s list of “100 Great Children’s Books.”)
3. Talk it up! Find opportunities to discuss what you and your children are reading. In other words, interact and scaffold the experience. Chat. Laugh. Read aloud with expression. Role-play. Ask questions about a story, including what makes it fun, exciting, sad, annoying, far-fetched, or whatever. Motivate children’s love of learning by conveying genuine interest in what they are reading. By reading and discussing books with children, parents can supplement the learning occurring in classrooms, daycare centers, or educational programs.
4. Model reading. Reinforce children’s awareness that reading matters, that it is integral to learning, that it’s a pleasant activity, and that it takes time. Be patient as children develop an appreciation of reading and reflection. Help them grasp the idea that thousands of wonderful books await exploration. Consider launching or joining a parenting book club, and engage as fully as possible with your own reading!
5. Recognize that parenting has many facets. It involves nurturing children, helping them develop virtues (such as kindness, forgiveness, resilience, honesty, and integrity), and enabling them to gain knowledge and competencies. Support children as they acquire a love of reading and come to realize that it can be instructive and illuminating—empowering them to better balance experiences, frontiers, and the many different circumstances that arise… When children delve into reading there is no end to what they can learn!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Joanne Foster is a parent, a multiple award-winning author, and an expert in gifted education and child development. Her newest book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. She wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate, and Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. She is co-author (with Dona Matthews) of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids and also Being Smart about Gifted Education. Visit her website to access all books at www.joannefoster.ca