Most people recognize the need to teach children how to read. However, far fewer understand the importance of exposure to reading, and language generally, at a very young age. From birth, children begin to process their surroundings, taking in sights, textures and sounds. Research studies have even shown that the number of words used around a child of just 8 months of age has significant impact on that same child’s vocabulary at 3 years.
While exposure to language of all kinds can provide benefits, reading aloud to children has some profound benefits over exposure to the kitchen table conversation or that T.V. show with bouncing purple puppets. Reading aloud introduces the language of books which is more descriptive, uses more formal grammatical structure and a larger vocabulary of words. Reading aloud also allows a child to use his or her own imagination, painting the picture of the story in their minds and developing important neurological pathways.
Reading aloud to a child can also have other developmental benefits related to the parent child bond. Reading aloud with a positive role model such as a parent, grandparent or teacher can create a positive experience and association with reading, setting the groundwork for a lifetime of loving books. Children may also pick up on their parent or loved one’s enthusiasm for the subject, an additional method for creating positive influence and association. Reading with your child also provides an opportunity to continue the discussion after the last page has been turned. Parents and children can have positive discussions on the plot, story, illustrations or other aspects of the book or story and character development, which will help build valuable critical thinking skills.
Reading doesn’t just begin once a child is school aged. In addition to the benefits of being exposed to language that we mentioned earlier, children who develop early literacy skills before pre-K or kindergarten have been shown to outperform their peers throughout all stages of their education. In the converse, difficulty with early reading can contribute to school failure which has a high rate of association with absenteeism, juvenile delinquency, teenage drug use and pregnancy.
Setting up a reading routine with your child doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, reading aloud can be a relaxing and beneficial part of your child’s regular routine. Reading aloud before bed can create calm moments for your child to relax and wind down from physical activity and encourage sleep. Reading can also benefit the entire family. Older siblings reading to the younger members of the household can strengthen family bonds and provide learning opportunities for everyone involved. Allowing younger children to read to someone older can also create a sense of pride in their literacy skills and build important self-confidence in their abilities.
In short, early reading reaps hefty rewards on children of all ages, both in the pure enjoyment of a great story and in long term benefits to school, health and emotional wellbeing. Whether an infant who enjoys colorful pictures or an older child who enjoys longer tales of adventure, there’s a perfect book out there just waiting to be shared.
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