Reading books together is a time honored tradition in many families. But, are you aware of all the benefits to caregivers and children that come from time spent over a shared book? As a clinical psychologist and children’s book author, I am passionate about helping families grow through reading together. Let’s take a moment and explore the benefits that come from shared read-alouds.
Developing Literacy Skills
Reading aloud, in short, is the single most important activity for reading success (source). When you read with a child, you are helping them to learn the skills they will need for independent reading. Even the youngest of children will learn book-skills: how to open a book, which way to flip the pages, and the direction in which the book flows. Children learn that print conveys meaning and tells a story.
As children start to gain literacy skills, they will begin to connect the sounds of the words–known as the phonology of the language – with the letters and shapes of the words they see on the page. The adult reader becomes a model of phrased and fluent reading. As growing readers read along in their own heads, they will also use this model to help with decoding new or difficult reading words. Because children can understand written material read aloud at a higher level than they can understand when reading alone, even older children benefit from listening to books read aloud, strengthening their vocabulary and their understanding of the structure of language.
Reading aloud can also help children to improve reading comprehension skills. By asking children questions like “what do you think will happen next?” before flipping the page, we teach children to anticipate and predict the flow of the story. These skills will help them with picking up more subtle aspects of text and making inferences. We can support critical thinking skills by asking questions that “go beyond” the text, for instance, helping children to make connections between the story and another story, or between the story and their own lives. Illustrations serve as an anchor for comprehension in younger children, and help growing readers develop their own internal images to support story comprehension.
An important aspect of emotional regulation for children is to identify their feelings. Sometimes feelings can be ambiguous and difficult to articulate. Characters in books typically go through some kind of conflict or challenge, which often leads to the expression of some pretty big emotions. This can provide a springboard for conversations with children about feelings and opportunities to grow a feelings vocabulary. As a caregiver, you might ask your child how they think the main character feels at various parts of the story, and what are the clues that the main character feels that way? Ask your child if they have ever felt the way that character feels. You could then talk about things that help when we have negative feelings states, as well as normalize the range of emotions that people feel in various situations.
Helping your child put words to feelings will help them communicate with supporting adults when big feelings take hold. Even just giving a name to a big feeling can help a child to discharge some of the intensity of the feeling. As a clinical psychologist, I have supported many children and young adults with articulating feelings and developing a feelings vocabulary. It’s one reason that I’m passionate about including caregiver notes in my books with additional information to support children and reading guides to talk about the text and feelings.
Bedtime Routines and Consistency
Another great reason to share books as part of a bedtime routine is to create a calming and consistent ritual that signals the end of the day and helps children wind down for sleep. Sleep is crucial for physical, mental, and emotional development. Unfortunately, research suggests that children on average get less sleep than experts recommend for their age groups (source). One of the best sleep habits to encourage good sleep is a consistent bedtime routine. From a behavioral standpoint, a consistent bedtime routine creates many opportunities for the brain to associate activities with winding down and getting ready for bed. Reading together is a perfect activity to share prior to bedtime and for allow some special time together between child and caregiver.
Finally, shared time together, especially snuggling while sharing a book, releases oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin is a hormone that is involved in forming connections with others and bonding. It is sometimes called the “hug drug” because it is released when we give and receive hugs. It is also released during shared positive activities, which could include enjoying a meal together, going for a walk together, or reading together. When reading is part of a wind down ritual before bed, both child and caregiver can benefit from this surge in oxytocin and end the day feeling connected.
Want to create more opportunities for bonding over books? I’m so excited to share the release of Rocky’s Christmas Journey, the imagined tale of the very real owl found in the 2020 Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree! Whimsical illustrations and a case of mistaken audio-identity lead to Baby Owl going on a journey he won’t soon forget! My caregiver notes share the real story of Rocky, the saw whet owl who made his home in the majestic Norway Spruce bound for the lights of the city that never sleeps. I share suggested discussion questions to increase feelings identification and literacy skills. I am so excited to share Rocky with the world and hope he becomes part of your read together traditions! Learn more about Rocky’s Christmas Journey here.