Dear Dr. Linda,
My Mother, my next-door neighbor and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the merits of reading to toddlers every night before bed. Every evening, my mother read to me and my brother when we were little, and I have to say that we both enjoyed it. It was just part of our routine. My neighbor and I aren’t convinced that it really fits today’s busy schedules. And more learning opportunities are available for little kids than when we were children. After all, our mom didn’t work outside our home until we were both in school. My neighbor and I both work. Our children are lucky to be in an excellent pre-school which they enjoy. And we know that preschool teachers read to the kids every day. Isn’t that enough? Does reading out loud to young children really help them later on in school? The only thing the three of us agree on is that we don’t really know the answer. Has anyone actually studied this? Kate, Cindy, and Susan
Dear Kate, Cindy and Susan,
To reassure you, it’s not the end of the world if you aren’t reading to your toddlers every evening. They will probably do well in school and enjoy reading later on. And, as you say, the preschool teacher reads to them every day.
On the other hand, yes, we have lots of research that suggests reading to children every night before bed has major benefits. One of the main benefits that kids don’t get from listening to storybooks at preschool is the bonding between parent and child. Studies have found that many kids love sitting on mom or dad’s lap, the cuddling, and the cozy feeling of being read to. Some researchers believe that this creates an environment for learning to love reading. Kids associate the loving feelings they get from being read to with loving reading. Is this true for all children? Of course not.
Several studies show that reading to children also increases vocabulary. Although we may talk with our kids a lot, we tend to use the same words based on who we are and where we live. Books, on the other hand, come from all over the world, even storybooks, and are often about people who are different from us or about animals or make-believe. All of these situations introduce children to new words. It’s been shown that kids who have a large vocabulary do better in school than those with a limited vocabulary.
One of the most recent and fascinating studies shows that an important part of the brain is more active in children who’ve been read to. Scientists discovered through functional magnetic resonance imaging that the children who were read to and had books at home showed more activation in a part of the left hemisphere of the brain. This part of the brain is important for multisensory integration for both sound and visual stimulation.
Researchers think it’s possible that listening to stories may stimulate creativity in ways that cartoons and other kids’ TV shows don’t. When children hear stories, they have to imagine the scene in their minds beyond the picture on the page.
Because of this research, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that all pediatricians should promote literacy beginning at birth.
I know parents are busy these days and their kids are also. I’m not suggesting that you must read every single night. However, given the benefits of reading out loud to children before they go to school, I suggest you try to find time at least two or three times a week to read to your toddlers. If you can do more, that’s great. Mom and dad can take turns. When going out, they can ask the babysitter to read to the children. Be sure to provide plenty of books for little kids to look at even when nobody is reading to them.
Co-author of Why Bad Grades Happen to Good Kids and director of Strong Learning Tutoring and Test Prep, Inc. If you have any questions you’d like to share with Dr. Linda, email her at Linda@stronglearning.com.