Life is often busy, and it isn’t always easy for families to find time to spend together. Reading aloud is one of the best ways that parents can have quality time with their children and connect with them.
A daily reading session doesn’t demand a lot of time, it doesn’t cost anything, and the short time invested regularly can build both good relationships and good reading habits that positively influence children throughout their lives, and can be passed on through generations.
There are so many benefits of reading aloud to children. Along with strengthening children’s cognitive, social and emotional development, recent studies show that reading aloud regularly to young children is linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties. Reading to children stimulates the part of their brain associated with imagination, comprehension, and language processing, and this brain activity is said to be higher in children whose parents read or tell stories to their children more often.
The library system in Finland is among the best in the world, and books, including children’s books, are available in many languages. However, there is not always a broad selection, depending on the language, and certain languages, for various reasons, are not available at all. In these cases, parents can use children’s books in any language that they understand (e.g., English or Finnish), and read the books to their children, translating the words into their own language as they read. The translation doesn’t need to be word-for-word, and one can be creative! Regular trips to the library to borrow books can be a special time together for parents and children, and it creates variety in daily reading sessions.
Parents can already start reading to their baby during the pregnancy. Language development already starts in the womb, when the growing baby hears her parents’ voices. In the beginning of the second trimester, a baby’s hearing is developed enough to hear sounds from outside the womb. Research has shown that when babies are born, they are crying in their own accents, and when they start to babble, it is in their own accents. Studies have also shown that babies can tell the difference between their native language and a foreign one.
Story massage (satuhieronta) is a great way for parents to connect with their baby during the pregnancy and after the baby is born. It can be an especially enjoyable introduction to reading aloud for both parents and child. In story massage, positive, light touch is combined with storytelling. For babies and children, calm and loving touch is very important for brain development and for reducing stress hormones, and early interaction in all its forms – talking, singing, and reading, is essential for a child’s development. Fathers can also play a special role in this. According to research, babies hear deeper, lower tones of voice more clearly than higher-pitched voices. A dad-to-be who practices story massage for mom’s pregnant belly has a great way to talk to his baby, and at the same time, relaxing mom. It has also been said that after being born, a baby will recognize the father’s voice if he has spoken, read or sung to her while she was in the womb.
A parent might sometimes feel that their child is not interested in reading if he will not stay on their lap or sitting down during the reading session. Naturally, at certain ages, babies and children want to practice their moving skills, are interested in play, and also, children have different temperaments. Even in these situations, parents can still keep up the reading sessions. The child can be on the floor with a toy, if he prefers, or crawling or walking around the room while the parent reads and perhaps once in a while showing the illustrations on the page. Also, the suggested 15 minutes of reading a day doesn’t have to be all at once. It can be split throughout the day (e.g., 5 minutes in the morning and 10 in the evening). Parents can find a reading schedule that works best for their family.
Some parents may not have had the opportunity to learn how to read. However, in many cultures there are rich traditions of storytelling, with stories passed down through generations. For parents who cannot read, storytelling is a valuable resource that can create a special and meaningful time with their children, as well as supporting the building of cultural pride.
Now more than ever, it is very easy for screen time to dominate children’s time and attention. Teaching children about the joy of reading and helping them to build good reading habits early on can help them to develop their own love of reading, providing an enjoyable and beneficial alternative to screen time, and can in many ways create a significant and long-lasting positive impact on their lives. It also gives children special memories of quality time spent together with parents, grandparents, or other loved ones.
● According to research, 15 minutes a day is enough to give a child all the benefits of reading aloud.
● By the age of 3, children in families that read have heard 20 million more words than children in families that don’t read.
● Parents impact on their child’s literacy is most crucial before the child can read by themselves.
● Daily reading aloud to a child has more influence on their future success in life than the parents’ socioeconomic background.
These are just some of the many inspiring facts from the Lue Lapselle materials. One of the best gifts a parent can give to their child is a rich native language. Every parent wants to give the best to their child, and regular reading sessions together is one of the best ways for parents to do just that.
Text: Michelle Kaila
Read more about the Read Aloud program and about Book Bag to Every Baby Born.