In our current busy schedules, is it possible to find time to read to your child? Is it important to read to your child anyway?
Majority of parents and teachers will agree that reading to a child is important and especially so that they can learn to read for themselves. However, there are benefits of reading to a child that go beyond literacy. Even though every child is born wired to acquire language skills, reading to a child helps in the development of such skills. Reading fluency is important in education achievement, and even future employment and engagements. There are known physical, cognitive, social, emotional/ psychological benefits of reading to a child.
Physically, the first five years of a child are a period of rapid development and especially of the brain therefore reading to a child helps the child’s brain areas that are responsible for language acquisition and memory to be strengthened from the activation that comes from hearing new vocabulary. Research by Jessica Logan (2019) of Ohio University on the word gap revealed that there is a difference of over one million words between children whose parents read to them versus those who are not read to by the time they join kindergarten.
As reading is made interactive by either turning pages of a book or using an interactive app, the fine motor skills of a child is improved as well. Books can also inspire children to play and get physically active through the characters they interact with and this is important for their physical health.
Cognitively, children who are read to not only increase their language development, and reading ability but also increase their memory. This is done through the interaction of the children make with the texts that they are read to which helps them remember information. A good memory is important for future learning in school and life. Children who are read to before they go to bed have been seen to have improved sleep since reading helps them to relax and sleep better. Sleep is known to help in in memory and so in turn improves memory. Reading also improves concentration in children at an early age, a skill that is needed in their future endeavors in school and life. Reading also stimulates curiosity and imagination in children, these two components are important in cognitive development. Children learn a lot about their environment and culture through books so this increases their knowledge bank for everyday life.
Socially, reading to children exposes them to characters and themes that can boost self-esteem and self-concept of a child. When a child interacts with words and characters in the books, their social skills, confidence and wisdom on how to deal with real life issues is enhanced because the children can identify with the characters. Children can learn acceptable behavior from the books they interact with and therefore enhance their social skills. When a parent or minder is reading to or with the child, the closeness and interaction during this activity increases their bond which is necessary for social development.
Emotionally, a personal awareness and growth can be achieved through reading books. Children can learn to identify and express emotions through the books they are read to and this improves their mental and emotional wellbeing. Skills like empathy, emotional regulation can be acquired through texts in books Reading is also good in dealing with stress and therefore reading to a child can help in stress reduction and increase their chances of growing up psychologically healthy.
In my practice as a psychologist who works with children, books are part of interventions and assessment tools for children, I can assess the concentration span of a child, memory, ability to read and interact, ability to recall, follow instructions, share, understand etc. I also use themed books to work with different issues that children need to grasp e.g., stress, social skills, identity, death, separation and divorce and even trauma etc. I have found that stories that are contextually relevant are more powerful than trying to explain certain concepts to children. Sometimes we come up with stories with the children to understand certain concepts and this helps in understanding and healing at their level. Reading to children needs to be fun and interactive to achieve the desired outcomes.
It is therefore paramount that a culture of reading is inculcated in our busy schedules. A reading culture is achieved through consistency and an environment that champions, values, encourages and respects reading. Every milestone in a child’s life necessitates a culture of reading because a child needs to grow in a wholesome way and if reading to your child can contribute to this then why not? In the current competitive world of education, innovation and work, having a strong start is an advantage to every child and therefore reading to our children from the earliest age possible is very important.
The writer is a teacher and psychologist – Lunar Odawa.
One way to get stories through to our children is through audio books. Check out the Cadbury Africa audio book site for some stories you can listen to with your family, as well as for a chance to record your own.