Just reading. Out loud. Every night.
And here’s what I want you to know: You should definitely, absolutely, without any question read aloud to your kids. All the time. And not just when they’re little.
We are so obsessed with reading in my house that when we went on a Spring Break trip to New York City a couple of years ago we made sure to visit the Scholastic store in addition to the Statue of Liberty. I might as well have Random House Children’s Books on speed dial. Barnes & Noble is among the three stores I frequent more than any other, and the vast majority of the money I spend there is on children’s books. In fact, I am so in love with reading that I want to make sure other children have things to read, too. Whenever we’re done with kids’ books at my house we either donate them to the local library or to my children’s school’s library. At our neighborhood-wide garage sale a few weeks ago, my kids handed out a free children’s book to every family that came by with kids.
I have read aloud to my children since they were little, and I continue to do so. I think that’s vitally important. I continue to read aloud with my 11-year-old when he’s not still buried under homework at bedtime. I won’t ever stop reading to him until he says he doesn’t want to anymore, and even then I’ll probably beg him to let me keep doing it anyway. We read books. We read magazines like Spider and National Geographic Kids for my daughter and National Geographic, the grownup version, for my son. They read on their iPads.
Also, every night I have my daughter read aloud to me for 15 minutes or so before I read to her. She’s seven years old, just finishing up first grade, and when she was tested a couple of weeks ago her reading level was at 5th grade. I’m convinced, beyond a doubt, that it’s because we make sure that reading is a focus at home and we don’t just leave it to the school to make it a priority. All it takes is a few minutes of a parent’s time to make a huge difference.
Reading to your kids is about so much more than simply teaching them to read in kindergarten or first grade. Here are seven great reasons why you should be obsessed with reading aloud daily to your children, no matter their age:
1. It’s time spent together. Reading time is time when you’re focusing on no one else and nothing else but them. It’s impossible to read to your kid and look at your smartphone or watch TV at the same time. I read to each of my children separately before bed. This lets me spend quality time with them individually. It makes for a longer bedtime ritual, but I don’t care because I love it.
2. It’s a conversation starter. Books always give us a reason to talk with each other, even if we don’t feel like we have anything to talk about. It keeps communication open.
3. It’s a great way to talk about emotional health. We talk about the things that happen in the stories, how we would feel if they happened to us, and how we might deal with such events the same or differently. Books have helped me broach topics that I might not have thought to raise if it weren’t for the subject matter in the story.
4. It’s a great way to honor the individuality in your children. I read different things to my daughter than I do to my son. We go to the bookstore and they pick out books about topics about which they are interested. Through paying attention to what they want to read, I can learn more about what their likes and dislikes are, including what they might want to be when they grow up.
5. You can open up new worlds for your kids. Reading allows you to introduce your kids to things that their school curriculum just doesn’t have the time or perhaps even the interest to cover. My 6th grader has recently expressed an interest in industrial design, so I’m on a hunt for cool books about the design of cars and about architecture. Dear publishers: Please publish more books for young readers about these things!! We don’t just need stories about zombies and vampires.
6. You get a wealth of information on where your children might need help. Through reading aloud to my children I’ve been able to teach them the meaning of words they still didn’t understand. They have better vocabularies. They have better comprehension skills and understanding of abstract concepts. And reading allows them to excel not just in language arts, but in all of their subjects. I’ve been able to see when my daughter was ready to read on her own — she started pushing me out of the way and reading the words herself — and also to see if and when she needs help.
7. It can lead to a lifelong love of reading in your kids. If you do it right, by reading like you mean it — which means getting into the story, changing your voice to reflect what is happening and not droning on like you hate what you’re reading — your children will learn to love reading on their own. My 11-year-old has now read more than 25,000 pages in his lifetime. How do I know this? For fun, together we created an Excel spreadsheet (OCD, anyone?) where we record the books he has read and how many pages were in them. He loves that little sheet, because it gives him a sense of accomplishment and he can look back on all that he has read and remember his favorites.
Reading is awesome, and even better, it’s accessible to all through our country’s public library system. So please, get out there and read to your babies and, most importantly, don’t quit.
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