Once upon a time, a freshly bathed child enjoyed a story before bed and then promptly drifted off to sleep…Sounds like the makings of a happy ending, doesn’t it? Aside from providing a cozy, calming way to cap off a busy day, reading before bedtime has tremendous long-term benefits for kids of all ages. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, reading aloud with children—even infants—can set the stage for healthy development and help them grasp the basic foundations of language.
To cultivate a love of reading early on, parents and caregivers are wise to set aside time each night to cuddle up with their child and enjoy a favorite book. Not only is this an opportunity for bonding, but it helps establish a ritual that can translate into a lifelong habit.
Benefits of Books
Creating a consistent reading routine from the start puts young children on the right track for future success in the classroom. “Regularly reading to children in early childhood has been linked to expanded vocabularies, better communication and listening skills, more advanced literacy skills and more self-confidence in literacy abilities later in elementary school, compared to children who were not read to in early childhood,” says Dr. Dawn Melzer, chair and associate professor of psychology, Sacred Heart University.
And when it comes to choosing what to read, the options are endless. Different genres and categories, from picture books to easy readers and chapter books, provide enriching experiences that help to broaden minds and introduce kids to new subjects. “Reading with children also exposes them to people, environments and cultures they are not normally exposed to in their daily lives,” notes Melzer. Books like Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and The Very Hungry Caterpillar introduce pre-readers to colors and word repetition, while the Pete the Cat and Uni the Unicorn series enable early readers to build their vocabulary through successive titles.
When reading before bedtime, children get the added benefit of settling their minds and bodies, while freeing them from worry. “The child feels safe and is relaxed and therefore may be more comfortable asking questions or expressing themselves than during our sometimes, chaotic schedules during the day,” says Melzer.
While reading together is valuable for children, it also has its advantages for adults. According to educational psychologist Reena Patel, storytime builds a stronger parent-child relationship and allows a caregiver to be fully present. “This reduces the likelihood that your child will act out for your attention because they know they will get some alone time with you prior to bedtime,” she says. “Your child has something to look forward to and [it] can help give a sense of security before they go to bed.”
Another hidden bonus is the ability to open the lines of communication between parent and child, even outside the storylines. “Reading promotes conversations and is a chance for the caregiver to talk about the child’s day, experiences and emotions,” notes Melzer. “It is also an opportunity for the caregiver to share their own interests with their child by selecting books to include in the child’s library and sharing their own memories related to the book’s content.” (I found this to true when reading Charlotte’s Web with my younger daughter and later introducing her to my childhood copies of Nancy Drew.)
To create an atmosphere conducive to nighttime storytelling, let your child take the lead. “Have books displayed and allow your child to pick what book they want,” offers Patel. “It’s okay to re-read the same book; younger children will benefit from this.” And when starting storytime, it pays to be fully present. “Your child will look forward to focused attention from you, so refrain from using your cellphone or other devices. Do it in a space without television in the background so there are minimal distractions,” advises Melzer.
As a child gets older, parents can tweak this routine accordingly. “As children mature and their cognitive abilities advance, parents can encourage more participation on the child’s part,” adds Melzer. “When the child is capable, parents can take turns with the child reading.” When this happens on a regular basis, kids will begin to associate storytime with slumber—and that means a good night’s rest.