We all know that reading is important, but did you know that children who read (and are read to) wind up being more successful than those who don’t?
Reading at a young age leads to more brain activity and development, while increasing curiosity, empathy and attention span. In honor of Young Readers Day, we’ll show you that the proof isn’t in the pudding when it comes to your child’s development — it’s in the books.
The Early Years
Babies recognize their mother’s voice before they’re even born, and from the minute they enter this world, they’re absorbing everything around them. That’s why reading to your baby is crucial for their long term development. Even if they cannot speak or understand language (as we know it), the mere sounds from being read to stimulates their brain and increases neural connections. A study from the National Association of Pediatrics recommends parents read to their child daily and that “doing so stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.”
As babies become children and begin to grasp their native language, being read to increases creativity and curiosity, and can perpetuate a deeper enjoyment of reading. Listening to their parents read increases a child’s vocabulary and linguistic development by increasing the number of words that the child is exposed to.
Dr. Pamela High, the Association’s lead author of the study, goes on to explain the domino effect that reading to a young child has:
We know that the more words that are in a child’s language world, the more words they will learn, and the stronger their language skills are when they reach kindergarten, the more prepared they are to be able to read, and the better they read, the more likely they will graduate from high school.
Another study found that reading at these young ages not only helps with reading comprehension in teenage years, but also in general intelligence. Researchers from Edinburgh and London looked at almost 2,000 identical twins to control for their findings. Since identical twins have identical DNA and the same upbringing, socioeconomic status, and societal influences, they knew that the positive effects from reading were, in fact, from reading.
It’s Not Too Late
With all the focus on the young and formative years, don’t think that your ten-year-old child has missed the boat on gaining from reading’s benefits. While it’s ideal to read to your child from the get-go, it’s never too late to start.
One the biggest advocates for reading to your older children is Jim Trelease, whose book, Read-Aloud Handbook, stresses reading to children of any age. Trelease brings up the idea that just as we have a reading level, we also have a listening level. He explains:
A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.
You can continue to foster critical thinking with more complicated plot lines when you increase your listening level. It also is a way to foster positive and honest child-parent conversations during formative years. Trelease continues:
Reading aloud to your kids is also a good way to grapple with difficult issues. For example, you can tell your child, “I don’t want you to hang out with so and so,” but that’s a lecture that will probably go in one ear and out the other. But if you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” “Do you think that girl was really her friend?” When you talk about a book together, it’s not a lecture, it’s more like a coach looking at a film with his players, going over the plays to find out what went right and what went wrong.
The benefits of reading continue long after childhood development and even adolescence: childhood readers end up becoming intellectually hungry, focused adults. An avid readers’ intelligence will continue to grow at much more drastic rates than non-readers, meaning it’s important to keep up the reading habit throughout your child’s life.
While the benefits of reading are undeniable, it’s important that your child learn to love reading on their own. When they’re little, let them ask questions, or even interrupt — the more interactive the activity the better. As they get older, allow them to pick books and topics they are drawn to. That way reading is not seen as a chore before they’re rewarded with screen time.
So grab your young reader, no matter their age, and curl up together with a good book. You’ll both be happy you did.
Do you already read with your child? What are some of your children’s favorite books? Let us know on our Facebook page!