Reading to your kids is something that most of us parents know is a good thing to do (put it on that ever growing to do list!) We want our kids to learn to read, to be academically proficient, to do well in school. And we also want our kids to be empathetic, to be kind, to be inclusive and confident. And connected and forming positive relationships with those around them too. Anything else? Well - spoiler alert - reading with your kids does all of this in one go. Talk about maximum returns on your investment! Reading with your kids - and empowering them to read to others - is such an important thing we can do for and with our kids, that you may struggle to finish this article and want to go pick up a book together right now!
Why is Reading Important for Children?
Reading can be incredibly beneficial for children, not only cognitively and in developing literacy and comprehension, but also in terms of children’s social emotional development. According to a recent Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report: 2nd Edition, educators listed the top social-emotional benefits of reading fiction and nonfiction books as: helping students understand people that are different than them (83%), developing empathy (81%), and seeing themselves in characters and stories (81%).
Reading helps children learn about empathy or feeling compassionately about others. It helps them gain an increased awareness of what other people think, feel, and experience, and the chance to experience thoughts, ideas, cultures and perspectives that are different than their own. In turn, reading helps kids gain a better understanding of their own experiences and emotions and how they fit into the world around them.
Reading helps children develop emotional literacy, by seeing others experience difficult emotions and naming these feelings. Studies have found that the more adults talk about the emotions characters in books are experiencing, the more likely children will be to understand and explain their own emotions and develop an emotions vocabulary.
And books can give kids the opportunity to build skills or have conversations around new or stressful experiences, like starting a new school, going to the dentist, or working through grief. Having age-appropriate books to make conversations on these topics concrete and actionable is important not only for kids but for parents too. By acting as a mirror to ones own experience or a guide to future experiences, books can help kids feel a sense of belonging and less alone.
Kids also learn more effectively from books than any other form of media because it allows them to experience things vicariously through characters or situations rather than just watching on television or playing video games. It’s important that children develop these skills early so that they become part of their everyday lives.
What are the benefits of reading to someone? Connection and attachment
Reading out loud to your child, or having your child read out loud to you or someone else is also a very valuable exercise in building a secure bond and attachment. Things like:
- Listening carefully to the reader to understand what they're saying
- Giving positive feedback
- Telling stories together
- Sharing experiences
all show your child that you are tuned into their needs, available and attentive, dependable and responsive. The ingredients to a connected relationship which in turn leads to greater self-confidence, And as kids become confident in their literacy skills and choose to share that and read to others - the cycle of positive connection and confidence building continues!
What sorts of books to read with your child?
What types of books are good candidates to read with your child? There's no one right answer here - there are many different kinds of books which all offer something unique depending on your child's age and interests. Other factors can include the rhythm and pace at which the story unfolds, whether it has illustrations, if it includes songs. As always, paying close attention to your child’s interests (I’ve got a cat lover!) and finding stories or characters who play on these preferences can be a great way to start and increase engagement.
Choosing Books that will help children learn around different themes
Finding age appropriate books that help with children’s social emotional development can be overwhelming! The good news - there are tons of amazing books out there! The bad news - it’s hard to know where to start. To help with this, we've turned to an expert in the field (and one of our My Kindness Calendar expert advisors): Tara Gratto (https://taragratto.ca), M.S. Ed, MA. OCT, the Founder of Raising Resilient Children, who helps parents and educators use books to build skills for social emotional well-being and empathy. Tara has curated a list of books that will help children with social emotional learning. And remember, the book is just the first step. The conversations surrounding the books is where so much of the magic happens! While reading, you can extend the story with a conversation. Try to get your child to relate to the feelings the characters are experiencing, and see how they might apply to their own lives. In these magic moments, we can foster dialogue with our children and use it to learn more about them and ourselves.
Ready to get reading? Download our list of recommendations today!