Reading to Your Kids: Why, When and How Much?

Why is is important that parents read to their children?

Academic reasons

There are so many great academic reasons to read to kids.  

Studies show that reading to kids builds their vocabulary. One reason for this is that high quality picture books uses a richer and more varied vocabulary than conversation. So kids encounter words and concepts in books that they would not ordinarily hear. They also hear them in context and absorb the meanings of words without being taught them directly. 

A larger vocabulary is linked to academic success. In fact, most standard IQ tests, which were originally created to predict academic success, revolve around testing how much vocabulary a child knows. 

Reading to kids also helps them gain a greater understanding of how language works— correct grammar will sound right, even if they can’t articulate any grammatical rules. 

Finally, reading to kids, if it’s a positive experience teaches kids to love books, to love stories and to share stories with the people you love. 

Emotional reasons

I admit it. Footie pajamas and a damp, cuddly kid listening to a bedtime story ranks among my favorite pleasures in the world. 

I  had an epiphany a while back that maybe one reason why reading to children is such a bonding experience is that it recreates the intimacy of a mother nursing her baby. Lap sitting or an engrossed child pressed up against an adult reading a story is an emotionally close experience. 

It also communicate love and safety. 

It quiets a child who has been playing hard before nap or bedtime. 

It also creates shared memories between the generations. 

Spiritual reasons

Studies show that one of the best ways to teach empathy to children is to read to them. Relating to a character in a story helps them to feel compassion to someone less fornunate than themselves. 

Besides empathy, there’s other values and virtues that are taught through good books. 

It’s also a great way to teach your children the foundations of the faith that you want to pass on to them. 

Why is important for parents to read to their kids? There’s academic, emotional and spiritual benefits.

How much should parents read to their child? 

Ten minutes every other day

Sarah Mackenzie from the Read Aloud Revival says 10 minutes a day every other day adds up to 30 hours of reading in a year.

Ten minutes feels doable. Even on the busiest days, there’s usually a way to squeeze in 10 minutes of reading.

Even on the busiest days, it’s often possible to squeeze in 10 minutes for reading. 

And 30 hours a year is significant. You can get through a lot of books in 30 hours.  

As long as it enjoyable to parent and child

This is the time when the magic of the Venn Diagram comes into play. Remember the Venn Diagram? The key is in the overlap. Make the effort to find books that you enjoy and the ones that they enjoy.  As much as possible, ignore everything that doesn’t fit in that overlap. 

If you don’t look forward to reading to them, if it becomes a chore, then you’ll start avoiding it. Make it fun for you. Make it fun for them.

How much should parents read to their kids?

  1. Ten minutes every other day
  2. As long as it’s enjoyable for both parties

When should a parent start reading to their child?

It’s (almost) never too early and it’s (almost) never too late. 

You can definitely read to a baby in utero. The sound of mom and dad’s voice is important to the baby pre-birth. 

I’ve also heard that 4 months is a good age to start. 

But, it’s kind of like the best time to plant a tree. The best time is years ago. The second best time is right now. 

Life’s too short to spend time on regrets. Start where you are today and move forward. 

If I took a road trip with my adult children now, I wouldn’t hesitate to read to them. Of course, the magic ticket is finding something that everyone in the car likes. It’s worth putting in some time and effort to find that something. Do the work and bring along several options, so you can abandon the one that you thought was a winner, but really wasn’t. 

When is a good time to read to kids? 

Before nap time and before bed time are great times if that works with your schedule and energy level. 

In the car is a great option, if you’re not the driver or play an audio book if you are. 

When school work is done. When I was home schooling, read aloud time was the favorite time of the day for teacher and students. We saved it as a reward for finishing everything else. 

What are the obstacles of parents reading to their child?

Bored with repetition

What do you do when your child wants to read the same books over and over again and you’ve had it with those books? 

Don’t forget you’re taller than they are. You can hide those books in a high place. Ha. Of course, they will remember them and keep asking for them. That’s the time for distraction. You can do the research to introduce the new books that will capture their attention. 

This is another time when the magic of the Venn Diagram comes into play. The books that you enjoy and the ones that they enjoy.  As much as possible, ignore everything that doesn’t fit in that overlap. 

Too tired to read

When my grandkids started coming to Grandma’s for sleepovers, I looked forward to reading them bedtime stories. I underestimated how tired I would be at the end of the day. I was ready for bed before they were. Sometimes I pushed through and read anyway— just one book, but sometimes I gave up. 

Kids wear you out. It’s a real thing. 

What can you do? 

Make reading before nap time a ritual instead of before bedtime. 

Put on an audio story at bedtime.

Put the kids to bed earlier.

Keep working on your health— diet, exercise, rest— to have more energy. 

Eliminate lesser priorities from your schedule for now. Concentrate on the most important. This is important. 

Lack of information about good books and books that push agendas

I’ve written about the absence of content rating for books. See my post Why don’t books have ratings like movies? 

Unfortunately, there are children’s books with hidden agendas. It’s not always obvious going in which books they are and what the agenda is. 

You will have to do some homework if you are concerned about what your child is reading. It might be just finding trustworthy book lists, like the ones at Read Aloud Revival. Redeemed Reader book reviews is another good resource.  

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