January 22, 2019
Mother reading daughter bedtime story

The Benefits of Reading to Your Child

by Keng Lam, MD  

The stories might be fairy tales, but the benefits of reading to your child are real. The American Academy of Pediatrics and almost all educators encourage parents to read to their little ones starting at a very young age. Sound science backs up their recommendations.

There are simply too many studies to list here. One of the best examples is from the well-known initiative Reach Out and Read, a program that started in Boston to encourage parents to read aloud to their children. In one of its studies, researchers followed 122 inner-city preschool children. They found that the children’s receptive language—the ability to listen and understand—was significantly better in those whose families had been exposed to the literacy program. The study confirmed findings from an earlier study of 323 four-year olds, which showed a strong association between language skills and being read to aloud at home.

In addition, there’s a new study in the journal Pediatrics that shows that young children experience physical changes in their brain from reading. This small study is one of the first to use neuroimaging to examine the effects of parent-child reading. The researchers took functional MRI images of the brains of 19 young children, ages 3 to 5, while they listened to stories. The imaging showed that children who were read to at home had stronger activation in the area of the brain responsible for language processing, compared with children who got less exposure to reading at home.

Tips for reading to your child

As little as 10 minutes a day of reading to your child may be beneficial, and it can be a good break for you too. Reading together doesn’t have to be part of the bedtime routine, but many people choose that option. Here are some other tips:

It's never too early (or too late) to start. Picture books are a great, durable way to read to babies. Flip the pages and point the pictures out to your baby. Help older babies to say the words that correspond with each picture.

Use the local library. It’s easy and it’s free. Many public libraries have regular children's story hours; contact your local branch or check its website for times. If you have a tablet, you can also consider downloading free library books through Amazon Kindle.

Take away the distractions. No TVs, phones, or paperwork during reading time. Your little one deserves one-on-one attention with as little competing stimulation as possible.

Get your pediatrician's input. Your child’s doctor is your most helpful ally. The pediatrician can tell you which developmental stage your child is in and what type of reading material is most appropriate.