Ahhhhhh...bedtime stories. Besides babbling, there is no sweeter sound (at least to a Speech-Language Pathologist) than a parent reading to (or with) a child.
Bedtime stories are a constant in most nighttime routines, and, if they aren't, they should be. It does not take an expert in child language development to realize the value of daily shared reading routines. I could sit here all day and still not be able to list every reason why story time is valuable to a child's language and social development. But, we all know that I would lose you after about 5 minutes.
Instead, I will list five of the most important reasons explaining why you should be incorporating at least one shared reading activity into your daily routine.
Social attachment. Stories, especially for young children, are often enjoyed while snuggling in the comfort of a parent's lap or an often too-small-for-two chair or rocker. This is uninterrupted time between parent and child during which nothing else matters except for the pictures or words on a page. It can't get better than that!
Exposure to print. Through shared reading activities, a child learns how to turn the pages of a book, how to hold a book, what the cover is, and later, how to read from left to right. Growing up in a literacy-rich environment sets your child up for future academic, social, and occupational success.
Exposure to rich vocabulary outside of their immediate, everyday routines. Children learn language through repeated exposure to words and grammatical forms. Younger children comprehend and use concrete language that is within their immediate environments- things that they can see, touch, taste, and smell. That's why children often express nouns, such as 'ball' and 'dog', as their first words. Books create an environment in which children can be exposed to vocabulary that stems from beyond their immediate environment. What better way to bring vocabulary associated with the ocean to a child who lives in Kansas than through books?
Exposure to cultures, traditions, and beliefs outside of their own immediate community. Not everyone is blessed to live in a culturally diverse community. Through books, children (and sometimes even their parents) are introduced to cultures, customs, and beliefs to which they may not be exposed often (or ever). This supports the development of a super important social-cognitive skill called "Theory of Mind" (the ability to think about beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, and knowledge- both others' and our own) as well as the development of empathy. Yes, empathy...what a beautiful thing!
The opportunity to practice 'advanced' language skills. Through books, parents can encourage the development of 'advanced' language skills, such as inferencing and prediction. In normal everyday life, it may take days, months, or years to find out what actually happens to a person or situation. With books, a child is given the opportunity to predict what may happen to a character and then turn the page to see if their prediction was correct. Pretty cool, huh?
As I stated earlier, I can go on and on about the benefits of incorporating story time into a child's daily routine.
Although it is never too late to do so, it is also never too early to establish a routine story time (yes, even for children a few days old).
If you find that your child has difficulty sitting through or attending to stories, let him or her interact with books at his or her own pace. Allow him to flip through the pages as slowly or as rapidly as he wants.
Don't worry about reading all of the words! In fact, I would discourage you from reading all of the words to young, young children (stay tuned for a future post on how to 'read' to your child in order to maximize language and cognitive development).
Most importantly, enjoy this uninterrupted mommy/daddy-and-me time. In a fast-paced world of "gotta-do's", there is NOTHING more beautiful than that!