The value of starting to read at an early age is not a topic for debate. Consistently and across multiple cultures, it has been observed that reading to your child has a beneficial impact on their literacy and cognitive skills, which leads to children reading independently at an early age. Additionally, it makes for a great bonding experience for parents and children alike.
I grew up around avid readers, watching my parents discuss books and characters and storylines, and therefore was always fascinated by books. At an early age, I was always more interested in wandering around and exploring than doing mundane things like eating my food and taking naps (ah, how things change!). To sit still in one place, and eat food, without running away, my, what a task! And so, my parents came up with a bribe of sorts. While feeding me, they would tell me a story, either from a book or from memory, and that would keep my attention long enough for me to finish my food.
Aside from the obvious advantage of making your child do things they’d rather not, there’s a lot that can be said for reading aloud to your child.
Early Introduction to New Worlds
Children lack knowledge, and make up for it by having imagination and creativity. From their perspective, everything they read is new, and the introduction of worlds beyond their everyday life is an asset that helps mold that imagination. Consider that to create a new world, one must then also create new laws and rules to build that world on. It introduces children to the possibility of change, and of experiencing a life beyond what they can observe. Allowing them to flex their real-world concerns in the safety of an imaginary world lets them learn without the bitter sting of experience. And besides, who doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts? I know I’m still waiting for my owl, and I’m convinced that it got lost trying to find my house in Indirapuram.
As much as I loathe stories that have a moral to them, especially when stated outright, storytelling shows children that the choices that characters make define who they are. It lets them see that beyond abject altruism, there is more to societal norms than just blindly listening to your elders. Perhaps that is why so many stories for children have ingrained in them the manners proper for their time, most notably, Enid Blyton.
It is a fire to be fed and nurtured, even when it’s inconvenient to do so. Everyone loves the quote “curiosity killed the cat”, but the complete quote actually goes, “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” Reading to your child instills in them a sense of wonder about the world and may give them the desire to explore past their comfort zones. Be it waking up at night to go to get water by themselves or crossing roads or venturing into the neighborhood, these experiences, fueled by curiosity, now take the form of adventures, and deliver a great deal of satisfaction when successfully accomplished.
Since I am a scientist, I must get into the science of this too. Studies have consistently shown that reading to children between the ages of 1–4 boosts their cognitive function, especially with bilingual stories. Children that have been read to from an early age show higher literacy and numeracy scores in controlled test studies than their peers. Of course, to all the salivating parents out there, please don’t attack your child with a textbook. It is important for the material to be engaging and relevant for this to apply.
Those of us who remember listening to stories, remember it fondly. Research shows that parents who engage with their children through reading and storytelling form close bonds that help create core memories for children. It is a rewarding experience for both the parent and the child and creates some great memories to look back on.
How to Nurture a Love for Reading in your Child?
1. Help your child discover what interests them; remember to encourage, but do not enforce.
2. Set an example yourself by sparing some time to read; reduce your screen time.
3. Read aloud to your child.
4. Encourage free flow of ideas by asking questions like ‘what did you like/dislike in this story’, ‘who is your favorite character’, ‘what do you think will happen at the end’, etc.
5. Make reading fun. Get your child to play a character from the story while you can play another part. Alternately, you can also have a storytelling session as a playdate where each child can play a character from the same story.