Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article called “Bedtime Stories for Young Brains” and it confirmed what those of us in the book world know: reading aloud to children is a potent and very important thing to do. The article focused on studies that measured a child’s brain activity when hearing stories, and kids who had been regularly read to showed greater activity when listening to stories than kids who hadn’t been read to. Early literacy matters, as Perri Klass, the author of the article, states: “We know that it is important that young children hear language, and that they need to hear it from people, not from screens.” To this is I can’t help but think, duh.
Books provide so much more stimulation for a child’s brain than a device. They have to decode and spend time looking at pictures while hearing a caregiver read to them. Add to this the tactile pleasure of the actual pages, and the closeness of sitting in someone’s lap feeling safe and protected while sharing a story. Who can’t remember sitting in a parent’s lap and feeling the deep tones of their voice against themselves? There is a quality to it that’s just wonderful. The benefits run deeper than this, though.
Early reading to children increases their vocabulary and ability to make connections and acquire language. While being spoken to obviously helps kids learn, being read to allows them to hear a great range of language, “This would suggest that children who are being read to by caregivers are hearing vocabulary words that kids who are not being read to are probably not hearing.” Again, the benefits of books seem obvious. Picture books are good for growing minds.
As a bookseller, this delights me. The push away from having kids read on devices cannot start early enough. Yes, they’re educational (or can be) but they don’t leave as much to a child’s imagination as a real book and they’re busy with parts of the screen that can be touched and lead to other screens that take the reader off the main story. While this might be exciting, it does seem to miss the point of just sitting with a book. nbThis could be why I’m such a fan of wordless books. Creating the narrative from only the pictures is a very powerful thing and freeing thing to do for readers.
It’s never too early to start reading to kids. I see this every day with customers coming in for baby shower gifts. Often I’ll get asked, as the customer holds up their favorite picture books from childhood, “But can they read this to a baby?” To which I reply with a big, “YES!”