ONCE UPON A TIME…
Whatever the story, just cuddling up and reading to your baby is beneficial for both of you
How reading benefits your child
Most mums love snuggling up with their littlie for a bedtime story or two in the quiet of the evening. But most of us will also admit that, after a long and busy day, with your mind focused on what’s still on your to-do list rather than the page right in front of you, it’s incredibly tempting to speed through the words or – yes, we’ve all done it – skip a page or two. However, reading your child a bedtime story has benefits beyond settling him and acting as a cue for sleep. In fact, those few minutes are more valuable than you might think.
Sue Palmer, literary expert and author
of Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging our Children and What We Can Do About It (Hachette, $19.95), says that most children learn through repetition, and reading a story at bedtime is the perfect place to put this into action. “Repeating the words of a favourite book lays down neural networks in your child’s brain and helps to embed language patterns, vocabulary and memory,” Sue explains.
Research has shown that 75 per cent of brain development happens in the first two years of life. Scientists have found a difference in neurological activity in the brains of children who are read to, and the brains of those who aren’t.
A study at the University of New York concluded that reading in an interactive style to your bub raises his IQ by six points. So, as you read, ask age-appropriate questions while looking at the pictures together. Talk about details such as colours and use silly voices to bring characters to life. As your tot gets older, encourage him to tell you what he sees.
“Pictures provide the cues so he can tell you the story,” Sue says. When you read to your tot, you stimulate his auditory cortex – the part of his brain that handles sound. “A baby finds rhythmic language in a book very comforting,” says Sue. “He begins to understand the structure and pattern of language. Knowing how a sentence sounds becomes intuitive.” So, when you read a book with rhythmical text, such as Each Peach Pear Plum, make sure you exaggerate the sounds of the words to emphasise the rhythm.
Reading a story every night exposes your little one to a range of language he might not otherwise hear, at a moment when he’s very receptive to learning.
Research from The University of Sheffield in the UK shows children soak up the most information just before they go to sleep. The more language sounds your baby hears, the faster he will be able to process them. And books introduce many words which your tot won’t come across in everyday life.
Build life skills Reading together has been shown to enhance concentration. A 20-year long experiment at Oregon State University in the US found that toddlers who are better at concentrating were 50 per cent more likely to get a university degree later in life. For a toddler, lift-up flaps will keep him involved and interested as he hunts for Spot the dog in Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill (Penguin, $24.99).
Shared reading also promotes logic and understanding. “Stories encourage children to think in straight lines, because there is always a beginning, a middle and an end,” explains Sue. “You need to be able to think in straight lines to think logically.”
When you’re intrepidly exploring the dark wood in The Gruffalo, the story stimulates your child’s imagination. “When a child listens to an imaginative story, he conjures fascinating pictures in his head,” says Sue. “That doesn’t happen when he watches a story on screen.”
And without you – or your tot – realising it, you are teaching your little one how to use a book. He will learn that those squiggles on the page represent sounds. If you run your finger along the text, he will begin to understand that you read from top to bottom, left to right. If he helps turn the pages, he’ll learn how a book works. “You’re setting your child up to read for himself one day,” says Sue. Feel-good fun An entertaining story allows even a very young listener to develop his emotional understanding as he interprets events beyond his own immediate experience. Making an emotional connection can help a child learn empathy and compassion for others.
Research carried out at the University of Sussex in the UK has shown that the way mums talk to their young children about feelings and beliefs influences their social skills later in life. Books can really help these discussions.
“Books will help you pass on your values to your child,” says Sue. To help your little one connect with the characters, ask questions and talk about what is happening and how everyone might be feeling. Boost your bond And, of course, that sleepy, snuggly story is the perfect opportunity to foster the emotional bond between you and your baby. “When you read a story to your child, you give him your time and focus your attention on him, and he in turn gives his attention to you,” says Sue.
Reading to your bub in an interactive style raises his IQ.