I love reading stories to young children. Whether I am reading to a classroom of little ones or cuddling with a child on my lap, reading a story is a wonderful experience. There is a tremendous amount of rich children’s literature available, so it is very easy to find a story that will capture your interest as well as any child’s.
While the pure enjoyment of sharing a story is enough to keep me reading to young children, there are many other benefits to this wonderful activity.
Increase a child’s attention span
Young children can be restless and wiggle and squirm after just a few minutes of trying to sit in the same place. One of the best ways I know to help children learn to sit quietly for a longer period of time is with an entertaining book. To begin with, hearing a story can be an interactive event. Children need to sit quietly while they listen, but there may be times when they can share an idea or respond to what is being read. Also, adults can easily tailor the length of the book to the child’s ability to sit. As he learns to listen and pay attention, the stories can get longer and more complicated.
Enhance visual discrimination skills
As children look at the illustrations in a picture book, they can learn to pay attention to details in the pictures. Do the pictures provide clues to what is happening or going to happen in the story? Do the pictures add interesting details and information that the words don’t tell the listener? Which picture is his favorite and why? Ask your child to answer those questions. As he looks at the pictures and begins noticing details, he will actually be honing important visual discrimination skills that are needed for every sort of academic activity. By examining illustrations in stories, your child will be preparing his “eyes” to recognize letter and number formations and notice slight differences between similar letters and numbers.
Practice auditory processing
Auditory processing is the ability to accurately process and understand spoken language. This skill is essential for comfort in a classroom and with peers, as children must be able to understand a teacher’s directions as well as communicate clearly and accurately with friends. As you read the story and when you finish the story, ask your child questions about what you just read. Some questions may be direct, such as “What made the monkey happy at the end of the story? Other questions may be inferred from information heard in the story, such as “How do you think the big brother was feeling at the baseball field?” When you discuss the story with your child after you finish reading, your child will understand that it is important to listen to the words and think about what the words mean. In addition, discussions often open doors for sharing ideas about topics. It is also an opportunity for a parent to hear their child’s reactions to situations in stories and share their own opinions and reactions with their child, as well. Listening to stories and reacting to what is heard will help children hone important auditory processing skills.
Reinforce word recognition
As children watch an adult read a story, they can practice following the words that are being said. A parent can casually point to words as he reads and his child can casually observe this. With repeated exposure to words in this way, children can begin to remember some frequently seen words. When a child does this, he is beginning to read! Without pressure or concerns about reading correctly, a child can naturally begin to learn how specific, frequently written, words look, such as the, and, it, my and is. Story books with just one or two sentences per page printed in a large, clear font are especially good for promoting word recognition. Also, when a child hears a story repeatedly, he can begin to memorize the words and remember what they look like as he points to the words and follows along with the reader.
Examine social situations and behaviors
Stories can broaden a child’s environment and expose him to new situations. When young children listen to a story, they have the opportunity to identify feelings and behaviors in others in a very non-threatening way. Stories can teach appropriate and desired behavior by describing characters’ positive behaviors. Children can recognize how a behavior affected other characters in the story and witness how others responded. When children listen to a story and recognize consequences for behavior, they can learn how to behave themselves without having to experience the consequence directly.
In addition, children can learn about feelings by hearing or guessing how characters in a book felt. After reading a story, a discussion about the characters’ behaviors, feelings and responses can allow children to explore their own feelings and become sensitive to the feelings of others. Ask your child how he believes the character in the story is feeling and why. Then ask him how he thinks he would feel in the same situation. Ask him if he has experienced anything that is similar to what took place in the story. Discussions about emotions and behaviors can be very informative for parents and very helpful for children.
Instill a love of books
Finally, when a parent routinely reads to his child, the child learns that reading is wonderful. It is entertaining and informative. Stories become the basis for sharing time and ideas with someone you love. Children can intuitively understand that when his parents makes reading stories a priority, reading is important.
If you’re looking for some new books to add to your personal library or to check out from your local library, you might enjoy my list of Top 10 Children’s Picture Books or my “runner-up” list of more great children’s picture books.
Image used under Creative Commons from San Jose Library.