The Best Gift of All

December 18, 2019

Are you looking for the best gift for your child/children? The answer is so easy. Just read aloud to and with your child every day. Reading aloud has so many benefits. First of all, brain research shows that hearing stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning. “Reading aloud is the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading” according to the Becoming a Nation of Readers report from 1985.

Reading also strengthens children’s social, emotional, and character development. According to a recently published study, reading to very young children is linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties. The study’s lead author shared this insight with The New York Times, “When parents read with their children more […] they learn to use words to describe their feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”

If reading is not a part of your daily routine, start now. Start early and read often. Reading to babies helps build bonds, vocabulary, and habits. If reading a story is a part of the bedtime routine from infancy or toddlerhood, you child will take the lead in making sure this happens every night.

Researchers state that most language is acquired through conversations. Reading aloud strengthens the vocabulary to which your child is exposed because according to new research conducted by Dominic Massaro, a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, although parents can build their children’s vocabularies by talking to them, reading to them is more effective.

Reading aloud is the best way to help children develop word mastery and grammatical understanding, which form the basis for learning how to read, said Massaro, who studies language acquisition and literacy. He found that picture books are two to three times as likely as parent-child conversations to include a word that isn’t among the 5,000 most common English words.

In addition, while reading with your child, read the pictures. Illustrations are visual clues that can help build their vocabulary and their emotional toolkit. Before starting to read, take a “picture walk” through the pages. Look at the characters and the setting and make predictions about what might happen. While reading, pause to look at the character’s body language and ask, “How do you think she’s feeling right now?”

Take it slowly. Don’t rush through books. Take time to talk about what’s happening both in the picture and story. Ask a question or share a reaction. Help your child make connections between what they read and the world around them.

Storytime is not some miracle solution to the challenges of raising young kids, but over time the benefits of family reading add up. And along the way, everyone gets to enjoy the snuggles and good stories. 

If you need ideas about what to read, ask your child’s teacher or the local librarian. The bottom line is this:  The best gift you can give your child is a love of reading. So read, read, read.

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