The Very Real Benefits of Reading Bedtime Stories
By Author Name
Mar 11, 2019
Updated Oct 25, 2023
5 min read
It may not come as a shock that reading to children is majorly beneficial to their development. But did you know that a child’s reading level in third grade is a key indicator of their future educational success? If they can’t read at grade level by third grade, they’re four times less likely to graduate. Luckily you’re an awesome parent who’s ready to teach them the joy of reading from a young age, right? Because if you’re reading this article, then you clearly care about your little ones and want to learn how reading out loud really helps their growth. So without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at how your kiddo can benefit from bedtime stories.
We’ll start with the most obvious benefit: better language skills for your little ones. From reading comprehension to listening skills and overall literacy, shared reading can teach children a ton of new skills. But just because your child starts to develop the ability to read on their own, it doesn’t mean you have to stop reading together. As long as it continues to be a fun and educational experience for them, keep it going!
One study found that when preschool children were read out loud to, the areas of their brains that handle mental imagery and narrative comprehension were activated. That means that their little imaginations were hard at work as they created their own understanding of the story they were being read. That’s the beauty of reading versus watching television or movies — the children have to use their imagination and therefore gain a better appreciation for a well-crafted story.
Sometimes it’s a lot easier to look at our own actions through the lens of fictional characters in a book. If the protagonist is having a tough time with something in their life, we can often relate and ponder our own challenges and how to deal with them. Well it’s the same with toddlers — only even more important. Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, says:
“...the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters. They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”
Honestly, who wouldn’t want their toddler to casually drop a word like “bequeath” in conversation to a table full of stunned in-laws? OK, we can’t guarantee that situation, but a study at Rhode Island Hospital found that babies who were regularly read to had a larger “receptive” vocabulary than babies who weren’t, meaning they understood more words. And once they get those words down, we all know there’s no stopping kids from repeating their new favorite words over and over again.
It might seem frustrating at first if your child is getting easily distracted and keeps interrupting the story with questions. But realize this is actually a great opportunity to help them tie the story in with the outside world so they can better understand what’s going on. Keep them engaged and attentive by relating it to recent events: “Yeah, she likes puppies! Remember that puppy we saw yesterday?”
Being a parent means you don’t always get to be the good guy. But when it’s story time, it’s a space for no holds barred goofiness. Experiment with different voices and maybe even act out the story a bit. Draw from your inner actor and go wild — most kids love a little movement and noise with their stories, so give 'em what they want!
With all the busyness of parenting, it’s nice to have a little time carved out of the day for sitting and relaxing with a story. And now that you know how beneficial it can be, there’s no excuse not to grab a book and get a few chapters in with your kiddos. What stories do you like reading aloud? What did you read when you were younger? Let us know in the comments!