It's no secret that finding time to consistently read to your child is one of the best gifts a parent can give a child (and yourself). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start reading out loud to their children from the time they are born and continue through kindergarten. Consistent reading aloud gives children a headstart in their education and primes the development of key listening skills. Keeping it fun can help form an emotional connection to reading and learning that can last a lifetime. Dr Barry Zuckerman, Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University, explains, "It's one of the most pleasurable activities that you do with your child - there's physical closeness, but it's probably the most unhurried time that children have with their parent and it is focused on them."
Recent science covering the benefits of shared parent-child reading:
- Reading and Vocabulary - Reading books to a child, beginning in early infancy, can boost vocabulary and reading skills for as long as four years later. The AAP states that children who enter kindergarten with poor emergent literacy skills are at a significant disadvantage and are unlikely to catch up with their peers if not addressed early.
- Positive Behavior - Reading aloud and playing with young children under the age of 3 has a sustained impact on a child's aggression and hyperactivity.
Nurturing Relationships - Children who are read to early in life are shown through brain imaging to develop nurturing relationships which promote early brain development.
Bedtime Reading Tips for Parents
We consulted with top pediatricians and used our own personal experience as parents to come up with this list of helpful tips.
Keep it fun - This is our most important tip for parents. Don't read books that are too long or advanced to keep his/her attention. The more joy you have while reading the book and the more involved they are in the story, the more they will enjoy it. Use funny voices and animal noises to keep the energy high. This will help your child get excited about the story.
Start young - It's never too early to start reading to your child; it boosts brain activity, and fine-tunes social and emotional recognition.
Follow with your finger - Remember children don't know the basics of reading so use your finger to follow the words. Words are like hieroglyphics to young children, so run your finger under the words as you read to show your child that the print carries the story.
Consistency - Even if only for five minutes each day, set aside time every day to read together when possible. Making this a bedtime habit can help them get to bed much more quickly as well!
Stop to answer questions - If your child asks a question, stop and answer it. The book may help your child express their thoughts and feelings and solve their own problems.
Go at your child's pace - The most important thing is to let your child set their own pace and have fun with whatever he/she is doing.
Reading environment - Leave books in your child’s room for him/her to enjoy on their own. Make sure their room is reading-friendly with a comfortable bed or chair, bookshelf, and reading lamp.
Let him/her choose the book - Read books that your children enjoy. Let them choose the books they want to read with you. After a while, your child may remember the words in his/her favorite book. When this happens, let them complete the sentences or take turns reciting the words.
Stop to look at the pictures - Ask your child to name the things he/she sees in the pictures. Talk about how the pictures relate to the story.
Try for 20 minutes per day - Reading to your children for at least 20 minutes per day has a great influence on their ability to learn and retain knowledge. Reading 1-2 stories before nap and bedtime will easily get you to 20 minutes. If they no longer nap, spend 10 minutes reading at the beginning of quiet time or a family reading block and 10 minutes at bedtime. Incorporating reading into your bedtime routine is also beneficial in helping your child to relax, which in turn helps them to fall asleep faster and have better quality sleep.
Read for your child's age - If your children are more than a few years apart, be sure to try to spend time separately reading to them. Reading separately can be beneficial for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons is because different books will usually hold their attention at different levels based on age.
Make it easy - Point to and name pictures in books for infants. Ask young children questions or have them complete rhymes from a short book.
Understand their age - Parents need to understand that 2-year-olds have a short attention span, and infants may put books in their mouths because that is how they explore their world. “We don’t want a parent to feel that their child is failing at reading if the child loses interest,” according to Dr Klass. For babies and toddlers, utilize books that expose them to new textures and sounds to keep them engaged.
Connect the book to his/her life - Show your child how events in the book are like events in your child’s life. Reading books aloud together is one of the best ways you can help them learn to read. This can be fun for you, too.
Helping Your Child Learn to Read
Praise and Fun - Focus on keeping it fun. Praise their efforts and tell them how happy it makes you that they are working on their ability. Make a game out of everything to keep them interested.
Start with repeated phrases - Find repeated phrases in the text and ask your child if to repeat it with you as you follow the words with your finger.
Don't correct, have him/her read again - Do not stop to correct your child when they mess up a word. If he/she uses a word that makes no sense, ask them to read that sentence again.
Keep it brief - Recognize your child’s energy limits. Stop each session when or before they get tired or frustrated.
Listen to him/her read aloud - As they learn, have them read aloud to build confidence and enjoy their new skills. Take turns to naturally give them breaks.
Keep momentum - If they need help with a word, give it right away. You don't want to lose the meaning of the story and turn it into a quiz. Do not force them to sound out words unless they initiate it.
Keep reading to them - Continue reading to your child even after they learn to read. A child can listen to and understand stories that are too hard to read on their own.
Some of Our Favorite Books in Print
There are many great books to choose from, and we certainly can't include every book. These are our favorite bedtime stories that also have 5 star ratings across the review sites that we have referred to. You should be able to find most of these books at your local library or bookstore.
Margaret Wise Brown, Clement Hurd
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site
Sherri Duskey Rinker, Tom Lichtenheld
Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr., Eric Carle
Giraffes Can't Dance
Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees
Baby Touch and Feel: Animals
Our Favorite Free Online Books and Resources
The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a free "Books Build Connections" Toolkit for pediatricians to share with their patients' families. Here are a few helpful links from their site, Healthy Children:
- Helping Your Child Learn to Read
- Sharing Books With Your Preschooler
- 10 Tips to Help Your Child Fall in Love with Reading
- The Secret to a Smarter Baby
- Developmental Milestones of Early Literacy
PBS Kids has more than 60 reading games for children PreK to a third-grade reading level that feature characters like Daniel Tiger, Caillou, Clifford, Elmo, and many others. PBS also has many vocabulary, math, and foreign language games that are accessible to anyone for free.
The Khan Academy offers an engaging kids app that is appropriate for PreK to Kindergarten children. It brings together thousands of activities focused on combining math, reading, storytelling, and drawing. As of January 2019, their iOS version is fully functioning. Their Android and Kindle are available as well but are not yet fully functioning.
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