Wondering why it’s important to read to your kids? Discover the long-term benefits of reading to children and how it can impact their future.
We’ve all heard the advice to read to kids, often and early.
You see immediate results, from your child enjoying books to feeling less cranky after a nap. Story time adds a certain rhythm to your day, and you feel confident that you’re doing the right thing in introducing books.
But the benefits of reading to children extend even beyond childhood.
The steps you’re taking now to read to your child changes the course of his life down the line. From doing well in school to relating well to his peers, these are just some of the long-term results of his good reading habits.
Long-term benefits of reading to children
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What if you did one little thing that leads to positive results long after you started? You’re planting the seeds of a healthy habit, making it much easier for your child to reap the benefits years later.
That’s what keystone habits are, as described in the book, Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. These habits aren’t so much about doing one thing that leads to one result. Instead, they’re small changes that improve many aspects of your life.
Imagine having a financially, emotionally, and socially more successful life—all because your parents read to you at a young age. Let’s talk about these benefits and the skills your child will reap from the simple act of being read to:
1. A positive attitude about reading and learning
Being read to at an early age means your child has “normalized” reading and learning. It’s simply a part of life, not a hassle to get through or an obligation to overcome.
The result? You won’t nag him through school tasks or argue about homework. Instead, he’ll be willing and eager to learn on his own. He might pick a topic for a school essay not because it’s easy, but because he wants to learn more about it.
As an adult, he’ll want to read on his own, for leisure or the continued quest to keep learning. This snowballs into his desire to fine-tune his skills, or learn new ones that will advance him even further.
Whether in school or his career, reading at an early age sets the stage for a genuine love of learning and curiosity.
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2. Higher vocabulary means success in school
Nearly everything your child will learn in school will be taught verbally. After all, she has to understand the new material the teacher is explaining, and read the content in textbooks.
The more words she knows, the more she’ll understand her teachers and the materials she reads than those who don’t. And the more she understands what’s being taught, the higher her chances of doing well in school.
She’ll face fewer barriers and enjoy the process of learning than someone who struggles to comprehend the material. The simple skill of amassing plenty of words and building a huge vocabulary gives her an advantage in school.
3. Longer attention spans
The very act of reading, however natural it can feel, is at its core a challenging act of concentration.
Your child is piecing together a story she’s listening to, and later, learning to read those words for herself. To top it off, most reading sessions take several minutes, helping her build her stamina even more.
This concentration and willingness to put aside distraction to read is the perfect practice to build her attention span.
Being able to focus serves her well down the line. She remains steadfast in her goals, doesn’t get easily distracted, and is less likely to give up when things get hard. She knows how to hunker down and get to work, and can tolerate long stretches of focus and even discomfort.
4. Encourages imagination
As “limiting” as books may be, what with words and a few illustrations, reading actually encourages your child’s imagination.
While movies and television feature constant movement and sounds, books require her to fill in the blanks and imagine what’s going on. She’s free to interpret words and illustrations on her own terms, and even encourages her to create and predict her own story line.
This creativity will help her think “outside the box” throughout school and into adulthood. Not merely a passive consumer of content, she’ll actually be the one creating new ideas and solutions.
5. Expanding chain of knowledge
Reading is like setting off a domino chain, starting with just one little clink only to cascade into more knowledge your child will learn.
For instance, reading to her now about trucks can seem insignificant. But because she was introduced to trucks, she’ll then want to learn about other automobiles. She then wants to learn more about the bridges they travel on, including their construction and what makes them hold.
Later, she might even build a bridge for a science experiment in school. And who knows where this passion will take her even further down the line.
Reading about a wide variety of subjects now sets of a chain of knowledge she can’t wait to dig into down the line.
6. More confidence
One of the benefits of reading to children is giving them more confidence, especially through having read or learned about it in books.
For instance, your child feels confident when he can relate to a story he read about swimming. He knows how to swim and feels good that another character is talking about a relatable topic.
Or vice versa—he feels good when he can see something in his life he’ll later read in books. He might have read a book about swimming, giving him the confidence he needs when it’s time to dip his toe in the water.
The act of reading and knowing how to read will also help him feel confident in school. Knowing how to read, perhaps even being advanced for his grade level, means he feels good about mastering the material. He doesn’t have much catching up to do when he enters school with already knowing the basics of reading.
No longer is there pressure to learn to read from scratch or learning to pay attention during story time when he has already begun that process at home.
Even as adults, we can learn so much more about our world because of the books we read. We can “travel” through different parts of the world, getting a sense of what others feel and experience. Learning about social issues gives us a better understanding of the struggles others face.
The same holds true for kids.
Reading stories about other people’s experiences helps them understand the feelings of others. They can see the similarities and differences with those around them. They get curious about how other people think, and what might have driven them to behave in certain ways.
Showing empathy and compassion is a critical skill we all need to learn, and reading about others is a great place to start.
8. A positive relationship between you and your child
Besides the benefits of knowing how to read, reading to your child nurtures a positive relationship between the two of you.
You’re probably curled up in a comfortable position, reading together before bedtime. Perhaps he needed your attention, and reading together provided the opportunity to have you all to himself for a few minutes. You likely laugh at funny stories, and whisper bedtime books before saying goodnight.
All these experiences deepen your relationship, the bond you have with each other. And the beauty of reading daily is that this bond is reinforced all the time, throughout many years of his life.
I’ve seen the difference with what reading aloud to kids can do in the short term. With my eldest, my husband and I spent a lot of time reading to him every day, especially when he was an infant.
When our twins came, we didn’t have as much time to read, especially as we went from one to three kids. And we noticed: our twins didn’t ask for books as much as their older brother had at that age.
My husband and I decided to change direction. We made an effort to read to them, incorporating books into their nightly routine. Any chance we could get, we’d grab a book or invite them to sit on our laps to read.
And it worked: until now, all my kids devour books. They’ll pull books from the shelves just as much as they would reach for a toy. They squeal with glee when I come home every week with a new set of library books, and expect reading books right before bedtime.
And what about the long-term? If studies are correct, reading to them now will serve them well into adulthood.
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