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Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023

Instilling a Love of Books

Benefits of reading to young children can last a lifetime

Hiding under the sheets and discovering the secret word of Narnia. Joining Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House and traveling through space and time. Feeling compassion and empathy for that young boy who is forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs but then marveling when he grows up to be a powerful wizard named Harry Potter. All of these amazing adventures are brought to you through the world of books.

Before you can have an independent reader who stays up past bedtime devouring books, you must first instill the love of reading in your toddler and preschooler. Developing a lifelong love of reading develops early in childhood.

The early benefits of establishing a love of reading will last your child a lifetime. Some of these benefits include:

Reading promotes language development: Children do not learn language from television, even if the programs seem educational. Children learn language by being spoken to, and one of the most entertaining ways to teach your young child language is to read to them. It is never too early to begin, as the sooner you make it a habit or part of your bedtime routine, the greater the chances you will continue. Starting early is important because the roots of language are developing in a baby’s brain even before he can talk! Reading is essential to language development as it helps improve vocabulary, grammar and language structure. Research shows that children who are read to on a regular basis have stronger language skills and do better in school.

Reading promotes overall brain development: In our fast-paced digital age, reading allows us to slow down, focus and concentrate. Before bed is a wonderful time to engage in a quiet, entertaining activity that does not involve screen time. Reading can help expand your child’s attention, stimulate the brain and build cognitive skills. In addition to concentration and memory skills, reading is beneficial in helping children develop problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills.

1. Children who are read to regularly score higher on intelligence tests – it really is like brain food. If you feed your toddler a healthy diet, ensure you are also feeding their brain with books!

2. Reading promotes emotional development: Much of childhood is spent learning how to manage big feelings when you are small. Psychologists use books as part of therapy and bibliotherapy to help children understand their feelings. Reading can help children develop empathy, learn how to manage frustration, and expand their perspective to include the feelings of others as they identify with characters in a book. Reading also provides tremendous confidence and self-esteem as children see their consistent efforts pay off, and they go from the one being read to to being able to read to you!

Reading can be excellent bonding time: The reality is raising young children is hard work. Between the crying, meltdowns, messes and a giant pile of laundry, parenthood often feels like a thankless job. If you can take 15 or 20 minutes every day, just before bed, when the house is quiet and the lights are dimmed low, and snuggle with your child and read to them, somehow the job of parenthood feels like the most rewarding job in the world. In addition to inspiring a love of reading, you are creating lifelong, positive memories of childhood that your son/daughter will take with them forever.

Remember this the next time you feel too tired to read or are tempted to let them fall asleep in front of a video.

Reading promotes cultural awareness:

Reading can allow us to travel to faraway places and times and meet people different from us. How else does a preschooler in Louisiana learn about snow, snowmobiling, skiing and ice skating if not through books initially? While we do not have penguins locally, we can learn all about them through the beautiful world of books. Books allow your child to expand their world and broaden their appreciation of the world.

Reading is fun and entertaining:

Reading has stood the test of time in our fast-paced consumer culture. Reading a spy book with a flashlight under blankets can be exciting and add to the thrill of a book. I can still remember my mother cuddling on the sofa with me reading my favorite “Anne of Green Gables” book. My girls, who are both grown, remember me reading the “Little House on the Prairie” series to them and how they wanted to share a bed together “just like Mary and Laura Ingalls” for the next year. Reading can create special memories and add to the pleasure of life.

Establishing the habit of reading to your young children is one of the most valuable things you can do as a parent. Reading provides a wealth of benefits, linguistically, cognitively and emotionally.

The emotional benefits you receive through bonding with your child are priceless. By reading to our young children, we are beginning to establish what we hope will be a lifelong love of reading. I hope you can find it in your day to carve out a small amount of protected reading time. The rewards for you and your child are worth it! Happy reading.

Michelle Yetman, Ph.D., is an associate professor and a clinical psychologist at LSU Health Shreveport.


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