The playful, interactive reading of books to a child is one of the most important things a parent can do to promote a child’s development.
It gives a child exposure to stories, concepts and experiences they may not otherwise encounter.
More importantly, it strengthens the parent-child bond by allowing parents and children to spend time together face-to-face, uninterrupted by flashing screens and other distractions of modern life.
This time together can also help children build positive associations with books, making books friends (instead of enemies) when the time comes for a child to read on his own.
But what happens when a child starts to read on his own? Should parents abandon reading to him?
Children can certainly enjoy stories they are not yet ready to read, and most can easily listen to books written two to three grade levels higher than their current reading level.
Continued reading to elementary and even middle school children expands a child’s vocabulary and oral language skills.
It also allows both parents and children to continue to enjoy the interpersonal closeness that books can bring.
Jim Beard, a pediatrician in Greenville, South Carolina, read to his daughters into middle school.
“I cherish the memories of cuddling and reading to them,” he said. “It allowed great conversations, not only about the book but anything they thought about.”
A 2010 New York Times article details how another father, Jim Brozina, challenged his fourth grade daughter Kristen to 100 straight nights of him reading to her at bedtime.
They celebrated meeting their 100-night goal with a pancake breakfast where Kristen proposed that they try to make it 1,000 straight nights.
“The Streak,” as it came to be known, ended at 3,128 nights when Jim dropped off Kristen at her college dorm.
In the N.Y. Times article, Kristen said, “In high school, I had friends who never talked to their parents. It never occurred to me not to.”
Reading aloud to children clearly brings many benefits. In the end, though, none is greater than strengthening the relationship between parents and their children.
The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a helpful resource for reading to children. The book provides guidance for getting started and includes a “Treasury of Read-Alouds,” a 100-page annotated list of excellent books for reading to children.
Dr. S. David Blake is board-certified in general pediatrics and developmental-behavioral pediatrics. He is one of six pediatricians at Commonwealth Pediatrics.