What is your nightly routine with your children?

For many parents ‘bedtime stories’ are part of the routine that precedes peaceful slumber. Not only do the stories provide an incredible way to help kids unwind and relax, an intimate level of connectiveness to kids, but they also offer a wealth of educational and developmental benefit.

Reading aloud to children has been quantified as one of the most important activities parents can do for a child. And the benefit starts at birth! Luckily, you also don’t have to wait until bedtime to read to children, and can include it as one of the many activities to busy small children throughout their days. But what is the importance of reading to our children really about? Is it the intimacy that children love, the imaginative possibilities that a story offers or the linguistic gains that makes it so important?

According to research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, it is all of the above. Their research has proven that reading is the “single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive, and successful life!” Additionally, reading is tied to self-confidence, academic achievement, social skills and learning ability. And consider that in school, and in life – reading is one of the most essential tools to learning, whether a child is trying to figure out a school project, or is trying to find their way through a school building. Our world is full of words, and children that do not read at all, or don’t read well, suffer grave consequences.

Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences to children that don’t learn to read, is the fact that their self-esteem is so hindered. These children often feel singled out in school, and resort to undesirable behaviors in order to bring attention away from the fact that they don’t read well. For children that don’t read well, many years can pass without the illiteracy being noticed. During these years, chances are the child has been self-abused by feelings of inadequate self worth, and diminished confidence. In the United States, drop out rates continue to hover between 10-14% of all high school children. The one common denominator that many of these dropouts share is their stymied ability to read at all, or read well.

And just what does all of this have to do with reading to your child? If you don’t read to your newborn or toddler, are they really going to be hurt academically and socially in the long run?

The truth is yes. Agencies like Reading is Fundamental, which is the largest non-profit literacy program today, offers parents tons of free information about how to read to their children and encourage the love and language and words. They also have programs that will deliver free books to households with small children each and every month to help bridge the gap between literacy and illiteracy. Reading is fundamental has done a great amount of research that proves reading to your children, not only helps them become better readers, but also helps them become better listeners and better students. The better they can master reading, listening, and their academics, the better their academic career will be, and the better their life will be in the long run.

By reading out loud to children from a young age, you are able to boost their vocabulary and communicative skills. You are helping to give them an edge in comprehension, which surpasses just that of the written word. By entertaining your child with a book, asking them questions, and even helping babies make the correlation between pictures and words, you aren’t just encouraging their education, but fostering their success.

You are also encouraging their mind and readily providing stimulation when they are most eager to be stimulated. Before the age of 5, children are extremely curious about the world around them, and are not only interested in reading and learning, but also fascinated by it. Reading aloud fosters this interest in education, and helps them to stay on the path to learning.

Interestingly, the United States Department of Education website performed an analysis on children. In the study, those that were read to by parents at least three times weekly, scored in the top 25% of their class on standardized testing across the board. Those that were not read to, typically ranged in the bottom 12% of students tested.

And yet, there is also another element. For anyone, reading opens an entirely new world of possibilities. Many parts of the world that we would not normally be privy to seeing, experiencing, hearing, tasting or even knowing about…is brought to us through books. The same is definitely true for children. It opens the mind, opens creativity, allows children to dream, and provides infinite possibilities for their lives.

One of the best parts about reading to your children, is that it is something the two of you can do together. When you first begin with books and reading, chances are you will be doing most of the reading, and talking. However, as the years fly by, you will be amazed at how quickly they begin learning words, recognizing letters, putting pictures and stories together based on their own comprehension and understanding levels. Soon, they will be reading these same books to you, and eventually will be reading independently.

Sadly, even with the tons of research about the importance of reading to children, it is estimated that as many as ½ of all children are not read to daily by a family member. Yet these same children may have spent as many as 5,000 hours watching television.

The best thing you can do is begin early setting the precedent of a reading routine. If you choose to do it at bedtime, that is wonderful. If it doesn’t seem to fit in well with your child’s bedtime routine, then do your best to find 20 minutes per day to sit down with your child and read books. 20 minutes per day, several times a week is all it takes to give your child an edge, not just in school….but in life!

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