We really MUST read to our children EVERY day.
I have noticed a burgeoning habit with parents of small children – using devices to placate and entertain them in supermarkets, the car, in restaurants.
Part of me wants to scream… I AM SO JEALOUS!
To give you context, I was an exhausted, yet overwhelmingly organised mother with three children under the age of three, and I was determined to keep up the appearance of keeping it all together! An iPad would have been a game changer; a large screen phone could have made conversations with my husband possible; a dropdown screen in the car incredible for a safe car trip.
There is something in our DNA that makes us want to be great parents, at least, better than those who parented us. We want to give our children the most remarkable opportunities so they have a wonderful life. Actually, that should read ‘we want our children to have the opportunities we may not have had, ensuring they have a truly wonderful life’.
Yet, there is something we could have actually have done (and could still do) to achieve this, and we simply just don’t – reading to our children every day.
There is such a huge volume of research findings ‘out there’ that reinforces the findings from the 2012 study by Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. 1
Children who have been read to on a very regular basis have a head-start
Reading to children at age 4-5 every day has a significant positive effect on their reading skills and cognitive skills (i.e., language and literacy, numeracy and cognition) later in life.
Reading to children 3-5 days per week (compared to 2 or less) has the same effect on the child’s reading skills at age 4-5 as being six months older.
Reading to them 6-7 days per week has the same effect as being almost 12 months older.
Well, I can assure you, we tried to read to our children every day. I’m never quite sure how we got in to the routine of reading to our children at night. At first it was the lovely romantic thought of lulling a child to sleep, holding them in the promise that is a hug, and, as the light fades, so does the day. Yet, some nights, okay, most nights, I would be wishing to be held because I was just so tired. The reading wasn’t a pleasure; it became a chore, and some nights it was simply too hard. I would feel inadequate if I didn’t read to them, hopelessly out of control if they came to me with a book in hand, reminding me they actually did want to be read to. This was because the evidence is so substantial.
Lisa Scott, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Florida goes one step further and with her team, she researches the effects of varying quantities of the reading AND the quality of the shared books. When combined:
The more books parents read, and the more time they’d spent reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children… and only those who received books with individually labelled characters showed enhanced attention compared to their earlier visit. And the brain activity of babies who learned individual labels also showed that they could distinguish between different individual characters.2
So, do we throw out all devices that support technology in this digital age? No way hosay! Under no circumstances am I suggesting to be device free. No, this is a couple of suggestions for changing things up when reading to your children is just too hard and yet you are aspiring to significantly positively Impact on your child’s reading and writing ability, their comprehension and grammar, their vocabulary, and their empathy.
IF READING AT NIGHT IS DRAINING, READ IN THE MORNING
Honestly, even as I write this, I can remember how excited I was to make this small change in routine and yet it made a huge difference. I could happily plonk the children in their beds at night with a kiss and a hug, and declare it a day without lifting a book. We would have time to do this because I would give them dinner as soon as the eldest was home from school, I packed their lunches for the next day as they ate their dinner so we didn’t rush in the morning, and then I gave them what was effectively would have been afternoon tea just before they had a bath and brushed their teeth and went to bed.
WHILST YOU ARE OUT AND ABOUT, READ!
Letters and then words can be found EVERYWHERE - shopping at the supermarket, road signs, newspapers and magazines, even on devices. It is the shared act of discovering them together that creates the reader.
At the children’s primary school, reading groups would be facilitated by volunteer parents AND grandparents (aunts, uncles, neighbours, the elderly with time available)
TEACH ONE TO READ…
(What is that saying, give a man a fish and he will be fed that night. Give them man a rod and teach him to catch his own and he will be fed forever?)
This makes me laugh still. Our eldest hated sitting for long enough to be read to, yet she would be so gracious when her little sister offered to read her a book. Even when she was tiny, Version Two would mimic the lilt of my voice as she ‘read’ to Version One. Version One would then look to me with immense pride, as if to say ‘Look, isn’t she clever’.
STACK A BOOKS
I love the adage ‘Children see, children do’ from NAPCAN3 This conceivable is the best of the ‘tricks’ to help you read to your children every day. Have a lovely stack of books beside your bed, and read. Your children will mimic your behavior. If you are always on a device, they will hanker to be on a device. If you always have a book in hand, your children will adore books!