We’ve all been there: it’s been a long day at work, your kids have been acting up ever since you got home, but now it’s finally time for bed. And you really don’t think you have the energy to read your kids a bedtime story tonight. They’ve been so rowdy tonight anyway–they probably don’t even want a bedtime story!
However, reading bedtime stories to your children is actually more than just a nighttime ritual for going through the motions: it’s actually a very important way to help develop a child’s skills–so no pressure! Let’s find out exactly how bedtime stories will help your kids.
The Science Behind Bedtime Stories
It’s true: bedtime stories dramatically help a child’s brain development. Here’s the scientific explanation, according to G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “Neural research shows that when parents and caregivers interact verbally with children–which includes reading to them–kids learn a great deal more than we ever thought possible…There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been regularly read to and kids who have not.”
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have studied this, and researchers found that when children who did not have strong reading skills were read to for about an hour each day for eight weeks, their brains actually strengthened. Their brains’ verbal processing centers began to match those of the kids who did have stronger reading skills!
Dr. Lyon says that the brain evolves as you read stories to your child: “When you read [for example] Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to your baby, exaggerating the oo sound in moon and drawing out the word hush, you’re stimulating connections in the part of her brain that handles language sounds (the auditory cortex). In English, there are 44 of these sounds, called phonemes, ranging from ee to ss.” He explains that the more often young children hear these sounds, the faster their brains learn to recognize them, and they’ll thus be able to distinguish different words more quickly as they get older.
Improve Specific Reading Skills
Consistently reading bedtime stories to your children will do more than improve their word recognition–it will also help them pick up crucial reading strategies that will help them as they get older.
You can work on this with your child by picking out bedtime story books to read that have some five- and ten-dollar vocabulary words rather than just the usual overly-simplified language of most kids’ books. As you read and come across these words, have your child sound them out. Help your child figure out what the word means using clues from the context. This will give him practice that will help as he reads on his own, both for fun and at school.
Bedtime stories will also help your child develop analytical and critical-thinking skills. Stop and ask various questions: ask about the story, ask about the characters, predict what may happen next, ask if this story reminds your child of any other stories or even movies, etc. This will get your child in the habit of finding patterns in the story and understanding the deeper themes beyond just the actual plot. You’ll be laying the groundwork for your child to become the star of her English class, score fives on her AP tests, get into an amazing college with a scholarship, and then snag her dream job and finally send you to Hawaii. Long story short, if you don’t read your child bedtime stories, you’ll never get that Hawaii trip.
Feel Those Warm Fuzzies
One of the most important benefits of reading regular bedtime stories with your children is simply that it makes them feel good! In addition to boosting your child’s literacy skills and molding him or her into a little brainiac, having bedtime stories as cuddly, safe time with Mom or Dad will increase and strengthen your bond with your child like crazy.
Experts also say that when you cuddle with your child during storytime, you may be helping regulate your child’s cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone created by the body when a person is under stress. It can help you manage your stress, but too much cortisol can also reduce your concentration. It is thus important to keep your body’s cortisol levels balanced.
According to Parents magazine, “Neuroscientists say it stands to reason that being read a familiar book while snuggling close to a parent can comfort a child, thus lowering his cortisol levels to help him concentrate better.”
You can help your child improve his or her cortisol levels by making storytime as calm and cozy as possible. Make it a very soothing, relaxing time–it will help the literary skills discussed above really sink in, which is a crucial part of child development. In fact, hundreds of organizations around the nation–the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, for starters–work tirelessly to improve children’s literacy; you’ll really be doing your part for your child!
Make Bedtime Stories a Priority
Reading bedtime stories is a great way to wind down with your children at the end of the day, but it is also a fun method for developing crucial literacy skills that will help them later in life–all while bringing you closer to them and making sweet memories. Go ahead and start making this a habit tonight!