The benefits of reading to your young children

My first child put me through some intense on-the-job parent training. On the day she was born, I didn’t even know how to change a diaper (I learned quickly). Four months later—after developing skills in diapering, feeding, and sleep-training—I read a brief snippet that parents should read to their babies.

Of course, the book didn’t provide any “how-to” advice. Unsure how this would play out, I nestled my baby in my lap with a shiny, durable, board book and started pointing at pictures. I tried reading as much text as I could spit out before she flipped to the next page, and she would laugh at my speedy attempt to finish sentences (this eventually became a favorite game).

While much of the text often went unread, there was an abundance of belly laughter, babbling, and broken board books. When she was two years old, our nightly reading made it so she could practically recite Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish in her toddler twang.

At age four, she picked up our newly acquired The Cat in the Hat and read it herself.

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My little girl is almost ten—and a voracious reader. Parenting taught me how truly impressionable children are and how one seemingly small routine can shape their interests. Not only is my oldest a total bookworm, but her siblings have picked up the habit as well. My kids successfully roped their father (not exactly a bookworm) into reading the Fablehaven series. They also set aside a little of their earnings each week in a book sale envelope so they can stock up on used books at the library sale.

Many other side-benefits have come out of our family book habit:

Purposeful quality time

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released July of 2000, between my freshman and sophomore year of college. During my summer at home, I brought my mom up to speed on the series as we listened audiotapes of the previous Harry Potter books at lunchtime. We listened to Jim Dale’s narration again in the summer of 2001. Those memories breathe through pages as I share these books with my own children—chuckling over the same jokes, discussing why certain words are inappropriate, and discovering the magic of a good story.

It’s a favorite pastime for us to pile on the couch and read a chapter together. If time wasn’t a factor, I would probably capitulate each time I heard, “Just one more chapter, pleeeeese?!” This past school year, I often squeezed our read-aloud into lunchtime. Favorites included The Cricket in Times Square, and No Children, No Pets. Even now, during the summer, my kids have our “read-aloud” resting at my place before I even sit down to eat.

Currently, I live halfway across the country from my parents. Thanks to Skype, my kids have evening read-aloud time with their Mima twice a week. They visit together, enjoy a good book, and actively maintain their special relationship—despite the distance!

Positive associations 

When I used to hold my baby in my lap and flip through a board book, I didn’t realize this regular activity was building a positive correlation with books in her mind. We had nurturing physical contact and priceless one-on-one time. When my oldest was a super-squirmy nine-month-old, I would read to her at breakfast while she sat captive in her high chair. I continued the pattern with the rest of my kids. When my second and third children were born, I made sure to have new “nursing-time-only” books to read with my older kids as a way to let them know I still valued our time together.

For family vacations, it’s become a tradition to pick a good audiobook to listen to during our trip. My kids thoroughly enjoy The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection by Beverly Cleary (narrated by Stockard Channing), Harry Potter (of course!), and The Hobbit.

The most positive (and unexpected) benefit to emerge from this “love of reading” has been observing how well my children respond as we read the Bible together. Just like I do with novels, I read the text with emphasis and enthusiasm, inserting frequent comprehension questions. I’m not sure how smoothly this would go if we didn’t already have a good reading system in place.

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Propitious  discussion opportunities 

Do you ever wonder how to explain certain concepts to your kids? It’s amazing how a good story can offer clarity to life’s challenges. One of the reasons Jesus’ parables continue to resonate with us today is their ability to illustrate spiritual truths in a physical context.

As your kids grow, books provide source material for discussion. Critical questions like, “What happened to Peter Rabbit when he disobeyed his mother?” or “How did the Tortoise beat the hare?” or “What helped the Little Engine get over the mountain?” help your kids make connections to their own world (with your expert guidance). Books like Charlotte’s WebOwls in the Family, and The Lord of the Rings allow you to discuss topics like friendship, loss, and change.

Furthermore, if your children are regularly taught Christian principles, they will pick up on the Christian nuances in books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Princess and the Goblin. I’ve been blown away by the light-bulb moments my children have had with these stories.

We’ve read more than a few books that touted activities or principles contrary to what we have espoused in our family. Books supply a comfortable entry point to discuss uncomfortable topics and provide a context for the consequences of bad behavior. This discussion trains their brain to pick up on subtle promotions of sin and develops critical thinking.

Connecting with our children is vital. Connecting our children with God is paramount. Reading is an excellent way to nurture these relationships in our families, supplying abundant opportunities to parent purposefully. Find a good book and start reading—together!

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