The Importance of Bedtime Reading for Children
Updated February 7, 2019
It's no secret that finding time to consistently read to your child is one of the most beneficial gifts a parent could give to a child (and themselves). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start reading out loud to their children from the time they are born and continuing through kindergarten. Consistent reading aloud gives children a headstart into 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.
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 many 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 play with young children under the age of 3 has a sustained impact on the 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 pulled from 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 her attention. The more joy you have while reading the book and involved she is in the story, the more she 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 is truly never too early to start reading to your child.
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 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 her thoughts and feelings and solve her own problems.
Go at your child's pace - The most important thing is to let your child set her own pace and have fun at whatever she is doing.
Reading environment - Leave books in your child’s room for her to enjoy on her own. Make sure her room is reading friendly with a comfortable bed or chair, bookshelf, and reading lamp.
Let her choose the book - Read books that your child enjoys. Let her choose the books she wants to read with you. After a while, your child may remember the words in her favorite book. When this happens, let your child complete the sentences or take turns reciting the words.
Stop to look at the pictures - Ask your child to name the things she sees in the pictures. Talk about how the pictures relate to the story.
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 attention at different levels based on age.
Make it easy for her - 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, she said. “We don’t want a parent to feel that their child is failing at reading if the child loses interest,” Dr. Klass added.
Connect the book to 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 your child 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 her for her effort and tell her 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 her read again - Do not stop to correct your child when they mess up a word. If she uses a word that makes no sense, ask her to read that sentence again.
Keep it brief - Recognize your child’s energy limits. Stop each session when or before he gets tired or frustrated.
Listen to her read aloud - As they learn, have her read aloud to build confidence and enjoy the new skills. Take turns to naturally give her a rest.
Keep momentum - If she needs help with a word, do so right away. You don't want to lose the meaning of the story and turn this into a quiz. Do not force her to sound out words unless she initiates.
Keep reading to her - Continue reading to her even after she learns to read. A child can listen to and understand stories that are too hard to read on her own.
Our Favorite Books in Print
There are many great books 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 took a look at. 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 patient's families. These toolkit items are available for print and download. Here is a direct link to the PDF's:
- Helping Your Child Learn to Read
- Sharing Books With Your Baby Up to Age 11 Months
- Sharing Books With Your 1-Year-Old
- Sharing Books With Your 2-Year-Old
- Sharing Books With Your Preschooler
- Sharing Books With Your School-Age Child
- The Secret to a Smarter Baby
- Why It Is Never Too Early To Read With Your Baby
PBS Kids has more than 60 reading games for children preK to a third-grade reading level that features characters like Daniel Tiger, Cailou, 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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