Reading books provides an opportunity for children and parents to spend quality time together.
Whether families read before bedtime to wind down or on a rainy afternoon to pass the time, it is so much more than just a bonding experience between parent and child.
Reading to children can have a lasting and profound impact on their development.
Here, learn about the reasons it is important for parents to read to their children.
Reading with a parent exposes a child to new words, and this can have a significant impact on the child’s vocabulary.
In a 2013 study in Reading Improvement, parents read storybooks to their preschool-aged children, and their receptive vocabulary improved significantly.(1)
Additional research has shown similar results. In a study in a 2013 edition of Contemporary Educational Psychology, researchers found that home literacy environment, which included factors such as the number of books in the home, how often the family visited a library, and how often parents read to their children, was strongly linked to improved vocabulary in kindergarten.(2)
Impact on Brain Development
Reading at home can have a positive impact on a child’s developing brain.
Researchers for a 2015 edition of Pediatrics found that children who were exposed to greater amounts of reading at home displayed more activation in areas of the brain associated with language processing when listening to a story at preschool.(3)
A study presented in 2012 at an annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience found that children who were exposed to more mental stimulation at home, which could include exposure to books, had thinner brain cortexes as adults.(4)
As the study authors explained, a thinner cortex is linked to a higher IQ.
Children whose parents read to them at home also experience greater success in school.
In the 2013 study in Contemporary Educational Psychology, children with better home literacy environments had a better understanding of word sounds in kindergarten, and they had improved letter knowledge and academic achievement in first grade.(5)
A second study, also published in 2013 in Contemporary Educational Psychology, analyzed the impact of a paired reading program involving preschool students and their parents.(6)
Study results showed that preschoolers in the paired reading program performed better in reading fluency and word recognition than did children in a control group.
Because reading to children at home can improve their language abilities, it can also have a positive impact on their behavior.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that children with better language skills were significantly less likely to display inattentive or hyperactive behaviors.(7)
They were also less likely to experience externalizing behavioral problems.
Reading at bedtime can also influence behavior. A 2015 study in Clinical Pediatrics found that preschoolers who read at bedtime slept longer at night.(8)
This effect existed even after controlling for confounding factors. Because adequate sleep is associated with better behaviors among children, reading at bedtime can be a tool for facilitating improved behavior during the daytime.
Benefits for Low-Income Children
Reading at home can have considerable benefits for low-income children, who are at risk of poor academic outcomes when compared to peers from moderate and high-income families.
In a 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, fathers of low-income children living in urban areas participated in a shared reading program with their preschool-aged children.(9)
After the reading program, the children’s language development improved, when compared to children in a control group.
A 2013 study in Review of Educational Research found similar benefits.(10)
After low-income children in the study participated in an at-home summer reading program, their reading skills improved.
Reading at home with a parent can be especially beneficial for low-income children, who tend to experience more challenges in the classroom than do peers from higher-income families.
Beyond this benefit, reading at home, in general, benefits all children, as it improves vocabulary, language development, and even behaviors.
It can also enhance brain development and have a lasting impact on intelligence.
It is therefore vital that parents are informed of the benefits of at-home reading, and educators and practitioners should encourage parents to read with their children and expose them to books at home.