Think back to some of your favourite memories from your childhood. Chances are, these memories include times where you cosied up next to a loved one as they read to you from your favourite book. You may not even remember any book titles in particular, but just the warm, loving feelings that you received from this special reading time, and have carried into your adult life. And this feeling is still universal today, with the overwhelming majority of kids saying that they love being read books aloud at home—the main reason being because it is a special time with a loved one. Creating these cherished read-aloud moments with your child allows them to form a positive association with books, both during childhood and well into their adult lives.
Not only is reading aloud an important family bonding method that creates lifelong memories, but it also has multiple proven cognitive benefits for children. "Reading aloud to young children, particularly in an engaging manner, promotes emerging literacy and language development and supports the relationship between child and parent”. Reading aloud helps to expand a child’s vocabulary and stimulate language development from a young age. It can also improve a child’s memory, concentration, grammar skills and mathematical capabilities.
These improved cognitive skills are especially beneficial once a child begins their academic journey. By the time they start school, children who have been read aloud to from a young age have been exposed to new ideas and hundreds of uncommon words and phrases. One study found that some children hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their peers by the time they enter school. This constant exposure to the written word improves a child’s writing and listening skills, analytical abilities, reasoning processes, attention span and general knowledge of the world around them. However, regularly reading aloud also has benefits that extend beyond a child’s success at school. Reading aloud is an excellent way to help children deal with stress and anxiety, and can also help ease aggression and hyperactivity. It encourages curiosity and allows for deeper social and emotional development—being exposed to the lives and stories of countless characters stimulates a child’s empathy by sharing in their thoughts and feelings.
Despite the extensive benefits of reading aloud, research has found that, while 84% of parents start reading to their child before they turn six, one in five parents stop reading to their child before age—usually in an effort to promote independent reading. Conversely, of those children whose parents no longer read books aloud at home, more than half did not want their parents to stop.
Did you know that just 10 minutes of reading a day will change your child’s life? While that may seem like a big statement to make, numerous studies have consistently shown that 10 minutes exposure to reading materials each day is all it takes to positively shape your child’s future. And this doesn’t just include complicated educational texts—any reading materials, be it comic books, novels, picture books, recipes, the television guide or the back of food packets, all count towards your child’s daily reading goal. Reading any of these materials for 10 minutes a day exposes your child to more than 600,000 words in one year—interestingly, that’s more than double the word exposure of a child who only reads for 5 minutes or less each day. The benefit of this word exposure is immense—research shows us that reading more improves a child’s performance in general knowledge, vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency and spelling[i]. But this goal of reading for 10 minutes each day isn’t only to improve your child’s academic success; the effects of this achievement are far more long-term than you may have anticipated.
As Dr. Seuss wisely penned, ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’ Reading for pleasure is a skill that will safely carry your child to success well into their adult life, broadening their horizons and opportunities. So how does reading benefit your child outside a classroom environment?
Reading improves a person’s empathy and emotional intelligence, allowing them to better understand the people and the world around them, which is especially important in today’s connected world. It fights against memory loss and has even been shown to slow the progress of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia[ii]—the brain is a muscle and regular exercise, such as reading each day, helps keep it healthy and stimulated.
As our lives continue to get busier, stress and the negative effects that it has on our physical and mental health can take its toll. However, research has shown that reading can be one of the fastest and most effective ways to reduce stress levels. Reading for just a few minutes can reduce stress levels by more than two thirds[iii], allowing the body to relax as the mind is granted a much-needed distraction from everyday worries. Reading also improves a person’s concentration, verbal and analytical skills, decision-making and emotional processing[iv].
It has been well-documented that reading is academically beneficial for children in so many ways. It improves their vocabularies, verbal fluency, comprehension, spelling, general knowledge and so much more. But did you know that reading has benefits that extend beyond the purely academic? It allows children the time to quieten their mind and to unwind, soothing any stress or anxiety that may have been taking up space in their thoughts. This act of relaxing and focusing on a single task without background distractions is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a term that is often thrown around these days. Research has found that its practice has noticeable physical, psychological, and emotional benefits—from actually growing the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotions—to boosting the immune system[i]. But what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is ‘about intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged in whatever is happening around you and within you. It involves bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to whatever is experienced, rather than habitual patterns of judgment and criticism.’[ii]
In a world where there are so many distractions, be it from digital noise or otherwise, it can be challenging for children to simply sit down and concentrate on one task or thought. Practising mindfulness via the act of reading is one simple yet incredibly powerful way for children to help cultivate this ability to quieten their mind and learn how to focus their thoughts—and it appears that educators agree.
More and more, schools are teaching mindful reading techniques to their students. As a growing part of the school curriculum, this emerging mindfulness movement provides lessons and exercises that assist children in fine-tuning their key life skills, such as paying attention to detail, active listening and thinking before they act or speak. These techniques also help to help students focus on their work, better handle frustration, stave off stress, and even smooth out rocky social relationships[iii]. Research has proven that the benefits of mindfulness go hand-in-hand with the benefits that come from reading. In a 2015 literature review commissioned by The Reading Agency in the United Kingdom, it was found that reading for pleasure increases empathy, enriches social relationships, reduces symptoms of depression and instils an overall sense of wellbeing. It comes amid evidence that fewer children are reading for enjoyment, and that parents are not encouraging them to read enough[iv].
So how can you help your child benefit from mindful reading? The first step is to move away from passive reading. ‘Passive readers read words, but active readers read ideas. A passive reader's goal is to get finished.’ Instead of reading as a duty or as something to get out of the way, encourage your child to find a quiet space and pick up some reading material of their choice—be it a novel, comic book, magazine, newspaper or the television guide—and allow themselves to actively immerse themselves in the task without distraction. Encourage them to set aside time in their daily routine for reading that is purely for their own pleasure. Regularly immersing themselves in the written word allows children to gain a deeper understanding of both themselves and the world around them, not only helping with their cognitive development, but also inspiring self-reflection and positive change[v].
By encouraging your child to practise mindful reading each day, you’re helping them to excel in their academic life and their personal life—improving their cognitive abilities and, ultimately, their mental health and well-being.
[i] Mindfulness in Schools Research Project: Exploring Students’ Perspectives of Mindfulness, 2015, Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
[iii] Caballero, C, Scherer, E, West, Martin R, Mrazek, M D, Gabrieli, C F O, and Gabrieli, J D E (in press), Greater mindfulness is associated with better academic achievement in middle school. Mind, Brain, and Education.
[iv] The Reading Agency, Literature Review: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, BOP Consulting, 2015.
[v] Teaching Children Mindful Awareness And Self-Love Through Stories, 2018, Your Body the Temple, The Mindful Panda
The benefits to continue reading aloud together through the upper primary years are huge. Reading aloud with your older child will:
1. Help build their vocabulary
A well-developed vocabulary is linked to better school performance. As a child listens and understands at a higher level than he's able to read independently (right up to high school age), reading aloud provides children with the chance to listen and engage with texts beyond their own reading level — and this is wonderfully constructive for vocabulary development.
2. Give you insight into their challenges
Books can invite conversation with kids around relevant social issues and challenges they might be facing. Choosing a book to read together that addresses a tricky topic — such as friendship issues, prejudice, bullying, or homelessness — offers an unmatched opportunity to talk together. You can better understand what your child thinks or has experienced around a given issue, as well as share your beliefs and personal stories on a sensitive subject.
3. Help them associate rest and relaxation with reading
Maintaining a habit of reading aloud together with your independent reader provides the continued chance for closeness with you. Plus, escaping into a great book can be a stress-reliever. Of course, choosing the right books is an essential part of a successful read-aloud.