If you are a caring and proactive parent, you will be looking the best for your child. But best doesn’t have to mean the most expensive toy or the latest product. In fact, some of the most valuable things you can give are reasonably inexpensive or even sometimes totally free: books. More particularly, the ultimate gift you can give your child is the time you spend together discovering and sharing books.
Benefits of reading to children
The educational benefits of reading books to children have long been known: reading develops language skills and competency, aids language acquisition, ignites and expands vibrant and creative imaginations, and stimulates thought processes which improve remembering skills and problem-solving abilities.
Intellectual benefits of reading to children
As well as intellectual benefits, mental health is substantially improved by reading. Immersing oneself in an emotional narrative can trigger feel-good hormones and generate a feeling of relaxation and comfort. Reading also helps to de-stress.
Books can also aid social proficiency, too; children learn to empathise with others as they explore new worlds with differing customs, cultures, and histories. They can connect to the bigger world and all its immediacy whilst remaining in a safe and controlled environment.
But above and beyond all of these undoubtably positive influences of reading to children is the benefit of togetherness – the act of engaging with your child, spending quality time together, and sharing an uplifting story – all things which engender a powerful and positive impact on your relationship with each other.
So, how can parents make the most of reading to their child? We’ve some top tips for you to increase the many benefits of reading:
- Let your child choose their own books. Dictating to children about which are the ‘best’ books may cause resentment when they see other books which they are more interested in. If you don’t want to give them carte blanche, then let them pick their choice of a few carefully selected books. That’s a win-win situation.
- Choose a comfortable environment in which to read. Allow your lap to become the Best Reading Spot in Town if your child is young. With an older child, sit side by side to signal that you are sharing something together.
- When reading, use expressive voices and intonation. Your child will find comfort in your familiar voice and also experience the beauty of the spoken language. A full-bodied, ‘Avast, me hearties!’ from the dastardly pirate or the squeak, squeak of the tiny mouse or the boom, boom of the giant’s footsteps, sets the tone, fires the imagination, and enlivens the adventure.
- Demonstrate undivided attention: turn off your phone, push away the thought of that email you have to respond to, stop worrying about what you are meant to be cooking for dinner. Positive, undistracted vibes will hold their attention and enhance the ‘feel good factor’ of reading. Plus, who doesn’t want to have mum or dad’s complete attention?
- Ask open-ended questions as you are reading. ‘This cover is colourful! What do you think the story will be about?’ or ‘What do you like about the character Jack [or Sam or whoever]?’ or ‘How does this make you feel?’ Find out what your child thinks; they may surprise you with their insights.
- Surround your child with reading material. Cheap books. Second-hand books. Leave them lying on the bookshelf. On the coffee table. On the kitchen table. In the bathroom. Go to the library, the bookstore, the market stall. Read signs together. Read the local newspaper. Look through leaflets pushed through your door. Entice your child to read by the sheer availability of reading material.
So, what’s the best, most precious thing you can give your child? You might think it’s…books. Nope. It’s you. Your time. And spending that time occupied in reading can be the most productive, beneficial, and life-altering experience for your child in all sorts of ways. Because mostly, it’s not just about developing their reading capabilities, it’s about developing your relationship alongside time spent reading together. And, additionally, it’s an awful lot of fun.
Michelle Price is the founder of The Travelling Reader, a British book subscription company offering monthly book experiences for grown-ups and children. www.thetravellingreader.com