Published 5 years ago
Good parents want the best for their children. They want their children to accomplish more, to make it a little farther, to be absolutely happy in their lives. They spoon mushed peas into little mouths, supervise hours of painstaking homework, chauffeur to endless activities, and provide all the support they can, all in an attempt to ensure their kids have bright futures. And for this, we tip our hats to parents everywhere, including our own.
With all of the effort that parents put into supporting their children, it would be a shame to forget one of the simplest, but most rewarding ways, you can invest in your children—reading! Reading to children from a young age sets them up for future educational success, helps in the development of a strong parent-child relationship, aids physical and mental health, and helps children foster a positive attitude towards reading.
In my junior and senior year of high school, with college admissions at the forefront of my mind, my parents and I started visiting different college campuses. On one of these trips, we found ourselves sitting in a Harvard admissions meeting before a campus tour. At the end, when they opened it up for questions, one dad raised his hand and asked, “As a parent, what can I do to help my child get into Harvard?” The admissions officer responding confidently and emphatically, “Read to them.”
We can’t all go to Harvard, but the Harvard admissions committee clearly recognized a pattern in successful students–being read to. It might be too late to start reading to your senior to get them into Harvard, but starting a little sooner than that can have a lasting impact. With all the expenses of college and college admissions, this early investment will pay dividends.
“If every child were read to daily from infancy, it would revolutionize education in this country!” This statement, made by former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, captures the link between early reading and future educational success succinctly and powerfully. Within the first three years, a child’s brain grows to 90% of it’s adult weight and they develop most of their capacity for learning. These years are a crucial and formative time for a child and his brain and through reading, singing to and even just talking to their children, parents are able to effectively “turn on” many of these brain cells.
While it makes perfect sense that reading to your child from an early age would correlate to their being better readers (something we’d all love for our children!), there’s plenty of research that shows that reading to babies and toddlers actually positively impacts all facets of their formal education. Studies have shown that being read to as a newborn not only improved the child’s vocabulary later on, but also their math skills. Children need to “hear” lots of words, whether through reading, or just being spoken to. While sometimes educational television programs can help us with this, it may surprise you to know that “the vocabulary of the average children’s book is greater than that found on prime-time television.” “One study found that babies whose parents spoke to them a lot scored higher on standard tests when they reached age 3 than children whose parents weren’t as verbal. “
While many of the studies referenced discuss reading to very young children, it’s never too late to start reading to your kids and to see them reap the benefits. I attribute much of my SAT vocabulary prowess to reading I did between the ages of 7 and 15. Even as adults, as we begin to read consistently we expand our vocabularies and improve our understanding of the world.
This benefit starts from the very beginning. According to Reach Out and Read’s Medical Director Mary Ann Abrams, MD, “Reading a book to your newborn is a one-on-one activity that you can really turn into a special time with your baby. It exposes the baby to the sound of your voice, which is soothing for him.”
Even after children are too “cool” to be snuggled, a study performed by YouGov aimed at looking for predictors that children would read frequently found that “children in the survey frequently cited reading aloud as a special bonding time with their parents”. If you take a minute to think about it, it seems intuitive. Taking that time to put away devices, sit close, focus on the same story, and enjoy one anothers’ company creates precious memories that both parents and children can draw on later.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
“Many pediatricians now believe that a child who has never held a book or listened to a story is not a fully healthy child.” We all know that reading just one story won’t make a night and day difference either. In fact, just last summer, American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new policy, “recommending that all parents read to their children from birth.” It’s this idea that emotional, mental and physical health are all linked, which we can certainly relate to as adults. When I exercise, I cope better emotionally and think more clearly. When I stretch my brain, I am more motivated in my physical health. It’s a beneficial, rather than a vicious, cycle.
By reading and being exposed to a variety of stories, children gain essential communication skills and see appropriate reactions to experiences exhibited in the interactions book characters have. They will be able to better identify how to express themselves and relate to others appropriately. In the words of C.S. Lewis:
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
Give them the exposure to these knights and heroes. Give them people to emulate. It’s a win-win-win.
If you love books and treat reading as an indulgence rather than a chore, you subconsciously pass that same perception of reading on to your children. In fact, “some experts believe that parental emphasis on reading as entertainment, rather than as a skill, develops a more positive attitude toward reading in children.” This makes perfect sense. If they’ve learned from you that reading is fun, they’ll be more likely to persevere, even when the going gets tough.
This can be best communicated from very early on, but if your children are a little older, don’t give up, it’s never too late. By continuing to read aloud to your children, even after they can read by themselves, you can explore together books that are above their reading level, facilitating their access to the next level and increased learning. It’s motivating to them.
Reading to children not only opens up a magical world of imagination and a new method of self-entertainment, it also empowers them for future success academically, emotionally and socially. Parents want the best for their children, and reading is just one more way you can choose to enable your children to reach their full potential, opening up doors no other activity can.
In summary, you can’t afford NOT to invest in your child’s future through consistent reading.
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