Today a fellow blogger sent me the link to an article published on the web regarding the effects of reading to children. Apparently, recent research findings show that parental reading to children increases reading and other cognitive skills at least up to the age of 10-11.
This news cannot come as a shock to any parent, grandparent, teacher or care-giver who has experienced the intimacy and warmth that accompany a story read together. As a one-time avid reader to children myself, it would not surprise me at all if one day research will show the extent to which reading to children not only benefits the children being read to, but the ones doing the reading as well.
In order to understand why reading out loud to kids benefits all involved, let’s analyze this experience a bit from the following three perspectives: the physical, the mental and the spiritual perspective.
The most important aspect of reading to a child from the physical point of view is the sharing of space: the reader and the child, snug and cozy in the corner of the couch, the reader holding the book, the child... its breath! Often the child will be nestled in the crook of the arm of the reader. Even if no word is spoken, the sharing of space in this direct, intimate way is bound to have a positive effect on both.
On the mental level the main aspect is also sharing: the emotions the author calls forth in the story are experienced by both the reader and the child. Laughter and sadness, wonder and excitement – in their sharing they take on a deeper glow.
When considering the spiritual aspects of reading a story to a child, the creative and communicative aspects become apparent. For a story to come to life, the reader needs to re-create the plot line and enliven the highlights in their own, authentic way. The child re-creates the story in its own mind, following the cues from the reader. Before long, the reader will adjust and fine-tune their reading style in response to the child’s feed-back, and they will re-create the story together. Due to this two-way, interactive re-building of the story, reading to a child is a highly creative, cooperative and harmonious experience.
Last but not least, reading to a child transcends the day-to-day reality of life with kids. It lifts both the reader and the listener to a new level of cooperation, where the small selves are left behind. I know from experience that reading to a child not only benefits the child’s cognitive skills, but due to the higher cooperative level it achieves, it calms and centers the child. Being centered and calm - conditions for the development of a stable personality.
Telling stories to children and reading to a child are time-proven ways to connect. As is always the case when people truly and authentically join in an experience, when parent and child read together they both stand to benefit. In fact, they might gain more than any scientist will ever be able to measure.