"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go!"
It’s generally well-established that reading is a ‘good’ thing for our children, but it may be surprising how far-reaching the positive benefits can be. Whether they are being read to or reading to themselves, building your child’s relationship with books from an early age can help their development in a myriad of ways. More importantly, cultivating your child’s reading habit will give them an extraordinary tool that will not only support them academically and in their everyday life but will also give them a lifetime of joy. We’ve shared nine ways nurturing a love of books can benefit you and your child.
1. Comfort and connection
The occasion of snuggling up and sharing a story provides a unique opportunity right from birth to build and strengthen the relationship between parent and child. A regular story-time is an event that your child can recognise as a constant, helping them to feel secure. Hearing your voice and being physically close to you will help your little one feel reassured, comforted, and ultimately loved. This foundation of confidence and security is key to positive growth and development.
As your child gets a little older, story-time will facilitate social interaction as books start conversations not just about what you are reading but also both of your wider experiences. Sharing this time to discuss your thoughts opens up communication between parent and child and helps you to build understanding and truly get to know each other, strengthening your bond.
2. Increased exposure to language and a wider vocabulary
It seems self-evident that the more children read or are read to, the more words they hear, but we were astounded by a 2019 study that found that children who are read 5 books a day start kindergarten having heard 1.4 million more words than their peers who were not read to. This ‘million-word gap’ could have significant consequences as children start their formal education, with those that have been read to much better prepared to see and understand language in different contexts.
It’s not just the volume but the variety of words that books can provide that is important. The language that we use in our day to day lives can be limited and, especially when talking to children, quite repetitive, but books provide a much more varied vocabulary, introducing different words, phrases, topics and contexts that simply wouldn’t occur in everyday life. Books for young readers often repeat these new words or phrases and put them in context so that little ones can start to consider how they might adopt them into their own vocabulary. Book language can be more descriptive, exposing children to more nuanced styles of speaking, which will help them to understand and process different styles of language in the future. Even before they understand what the words mean, when they are read to little ones are hearing new sounds which they can try out, vital for speech development. This is particularly important if a child will be learning to speak more than one language, so they can recognise the difference in the sounds and eventually learn to switch between them.
3. Building early literacy skills
Reading helps children understand how literacy works, even if they are too young to read the words on the page. Functionally, they learn that they need to look at the page from left to right to decipher the meaning and when they need to turn the page to move the story on. Even reading to very small children, by pointing at the images on the page and saying the names of the various objects your child will start to understand association, laying the groundwork for the development of language. For slightly older children, they will start to understand the concept of phonics, linking the symbols they see on the page with sounds. Building their understanding of the basics of written communication will act as a strong foundation for future academic learning. Little ones will also learn that they can use books and the written word as a stable source of meaning and information, which will help them to access text in the future.
4. An understanding of the world and development of cognitive skills
Reading gives children an understanding of things outside of themselves. As well as gaining a foundation of background knowledge about the world around them, which they can use to make sense of what they see, hear and feel, reading gives children new ideas about the world which they can then connect to their own lives. As they do this, they are developing new thought processes, honing their memory, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.
Reading is also actual physical exercise for little brains! As a child reads, their brains are constructing new neural pathways and connections between brain cells. Studies have shown that reading changes the structure of the brain and increases the complexity of its circuits, which will lead to a greater capacity for processing and understanding information.
5. Focus and relaxation
When we read, we must focus solely on the words we are reading and following the story. We’ve all experienced that feeling of other worldliness when we’ve been reading for a while and are surprised to find ourselves back in our living room with the world still carrying on outside! In an increasingly busy world, which constantly demands our attention, focusing on one task like reading a book helps to relax our minds, shutting out external worries or stressors in a state which is almost like meditating. Cultivating this practice in your child will help them to relax and feel calm – reading is the original mindfulness!
Sitting still and concentrating is a learned skill and doesn’t come naturally to toddlers – I’m sure we’ve all experienced a squirming toddler distracted by anything and everything at story-time! Reading or listening to a book demands that children sit still and focus on one thing for a period, honing their concentration, attention span and self-discipline, skills which they will certainly need in the future.
6. Imagination and creativity
Books truly are gateways to another world; whatever type of book you read, it is likely to be something slightly different to your own experience. Fiction books demand us to imagine characters and environments that we have never seen, and as they are reading children will start to learn how to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Exploring the worlds contained in books will stretch little one’s imaginative impulses, and as they start to learn how to consider what might come next, they are flexing their creative brains and developing ingenuity and inventiveness which they can then take to their play.
7. Empathy and emotional intelligence
As we read, we are asked to consider and understand the emotions of the characters. For children, books can expose them to situations that they haven’t encountered themselves, particularly frightening or sad ones, introducing them to new emotions. Understanding a wide range of emotions, good and bad, is key to building their emotional intelligence which is vital for their social development. They are also starting to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, becoming aware of how different events might affect different people, which develops their ability to empathise with others.
8. Broader horizons
Books allow us to travel without leaving our homes, giving us a glimpse of other places, people, cultures and traditions. Through reading little ones are exposed to experiences other than their own, helping them to see the multitude of their world and appreciate the endless variety around them. They can start to understand more complex concepts like diversity, acceptance, kindness or loss so that they are prepared to deal with these in real life. They can even learn other languages if they are introduced to bilingual books. By introducing these new ideas and experiences, books can become a platform for discussion, developing your child’s understanding and knowledge.
If a child can read, they have a tool that they can access independently whenever they choose. In terms of their learning, reading allows a child to learn at their own pace, drawing their own connections between the things they see on the page and their own experience, and gradually building their understanding. Their minds are interpreting what they read in their own way, just as they do the world around them. What they read is also sparking their curiosity, giving them the urge to ask questions and seek more information about the things that interest them.
More importantly, a little one that has a love for reading will very rarely be bored! Children that read for pleasure will always have an unlimited source of exciting new experiences to indulge in and can entertain themselves at a moment’s notice. If we cultivate this connection between reading and pleasure at an early age, our children will continue to be motivated to seek out books for enjoyment and for knowledge throughout their life.