Reading with our kids is important for their development- and, with some creativity we can also use reading as a way to stay connected with our kids even when busy or when traveling for work. Here’s expert Chris Cottrell’s evidence and advice
I’m writing this post from the perspective of a son, looking back on great things my dad did. When I was very young, my dad had to be away from the family for almost nine months, practically a lifetime for me at that age. To help keep us connected during that time, he filmed himself reading my favorite children’s books out loud and gave me that video to watch while he was away. Reading out loud together became common at home and it is a very fond memory of my childhood.
Why Is Reading Out Loud So Important?
Reading aloud helps your children grow their imaginations, learn words and languages, think critically and succeed in school.
Here’s the evidence:
In the early 1960’s, two researchers studied the effects of how parents talk to their child during the first years of their life (study by Hart and Risley, referenced here). They found that the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s IQ test scores later in life. Differences in the amount of experience correlated with differences at age three in children’s rates of vocabulary growth and use, as well as general accomplishments and school performance at age nine. Bottom line, reading to kids makes a huge difference.
In his bestseller, “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, author Jim Trelease says, “Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.”
Finally, according to a landmark report released in 1985, “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” reading aloud is “thhe single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”
It’s clear that reading aloud is absolutely vital to children’s success in life and their ability to learn. The challenge just comes in fitting time for a focused, labor and time-intensive activity into your day. Here are some ways to make it easier.
Three Ways Dads Can Fit Reading into a Busy Life
1. Make it part of your bedtime routine. Building in time to read out loud together before bed is the perfect way to end the day and help your kids wind down. Decide ahead of time how many pages you’ll read or set a time limit to make it manageable. Pick a book with short stories and chapters like Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights or The Book of Virtues. These books help young children think and reason with right and wrong.
2. If your children are old enough, read the same book while you’re travelling. Your children will outgrow the point at which reading aloud is enjoyable to them, so, instead of reading to them, reading along with what they’re reading. Connect with your son over a classic Hemingway or with your daughter through Little House on the Prairie.
3. Read together over Skype or Facetime. When you’re travelling, take a few minutes to read out loud to your children at home over video chat. Even better, pick up an additional copy of the book for them to read along with you.
Three Helpful Tips
1. Bring it to life. When my dad read to us, he gave every character a unique voice or accent and he gave each verb life with his inflection and tone. It wasn’t, “John ran quickly across the yard and leapt into the river.” It was, “John ran quickly across the yard… and LEAPT into the river!”
2. Incorporate your religious beliefs into the books you choose. No matter your beliefs, there are probably books available that tell the fundamental stories of your faith in a way that’s easy for children to understand. Reading these books together helps to set a foundation for the beliefs and morals in your family (SB: even if you are not particularly religious, you can use reading as a way to impart the values you want your kids to grow up with).
3. Pick a book you’ll enjoy. Reading something like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, or the Chronicles of Narnia will make it easier for you to enjoy. You and your children will be excited to hear what happens next in the story and will truly look forward to reading again. It also makes for an enjoyable evening for the whole family to be together.
Thank you, Chris for the info and advice!
Do you have any experience you’d like to share about reading with your kids? about using reading as a way to stay connected during time apart? Let’s discuss in the comments section.
Chris Cottrell is the founder and CEO of Daddy Read a Book, a nonprofit charity focused on helping connect dads who are away from home to their kids and have strong relationships with them. Daddy Read a Book films the dad reading popular storybooks out loud and gives the video to his children so they can watch it while he is gone. Chris graduated from Arizona State University and lives in Arizona with his wife, Arielle. You can connect with him on Twitter, through his blog, or over email.