Why Parents Should Never Stop Reading to Their Kids

Why Parents Should Never Stop Reading to Their Kids

Story time isn’t just for babies. Read to older kids for a lifetime of benefits.

By: Leah Maxwell

Reading bedtime stories to my infant son was one of the things I most looked forward to as a soon-to-be-parent, and as luck would have it, my rose-colored fantasy version of that special togetherness wasn’t too far from the reality. Every night, my husband and I sat side by side on our little orange library couch, nestled our bright-eyed baby between us, and shared the gifts of reading, imagination, and family bonding. Norman Rockwell should have painted the pretty picture we made.

Inevitably, time marched on and that baby grew older, as babies tend to do, and before long, we welcomed another kid into the family, and, well ... story time these days is less often a portrait of domestic bliss than it is a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert. Arms and legs are flailing every which way, there are too many people per square foot of space, and I wish I had some earplugs. One day last week when it got to be too much, I sent my older son into another room to read himself a bedtime story and then I high-fived myself for having discovered a way to outsource what had come to feel like a chore instead of a relaxing reward at the end of a long day. Besides, isn’t the child who can read on his own too old for family story time anyway?

I got my answer in the form of a sharp pang of emptiness that sprung from my older son’s absence. As it turns out, I missed him, even though he was just down the hall. I missed all of us together, piled on the too-small bed, sharing that time and experience with one another, chaos and all. I missed voting on which book to read, I missed everyone pointing out some fun little detail in the illustrations, and I missed talking about what we’d read, what we liked, how it made us feel, and why it was important. I was missing out.

In the last year, as my oldest son has gone from plodding his way through early readers to plowing through chapter books, it’s definitely a blessing to be able to point him to a quiet corner of the house with some quality literature (or a comic book), but I’m also relieved to know this development doesn’t mean the end of reading together, either as a whole family or just one on one as parent and child.

Experts tout the intellectual benefits of reading to young children -- it teaches them about the world, it enhances their comprehension and vocabulary, it lays the foundation for them to become lifelong readers -- and if the only goal of parent-child story time is to raise readers, we might think we can put a big red checkmark in that box as soon as our kids can read to themselves. What that line of thinking ignores, however, are the emotional benefits that children of all ages gain from reading together with a parent.

Mom of two Sandra Poirier Smith says when her kids were young, she read with them every morning, but the tradition didn’t stop simply because they’d transitioned from, as she says, “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” “The bonding, the laughing, the learning, and the memories were and still are priceless,” she says. “We’d be under a blanket, the three of us, sharing adventures.” Poirier Smith’s daughter is now in college, but her son, a high school junior, continues the tradition by sharing age-appropriate books with his mom over breakfast. Can you imagine doing that with your teenager? We should all be so lucky.

More from P&G everyday: 6 Fun Ways to Raise a Reader

If a 16-year-old boy reading with his mother every day isn’t inspiration enough for you, here’s what an expert has to say: “[Parents reading to older children] continues to instill a value of reading in the child. Like all family values, this can have a powerful effect on reading behavior that will grow into a continued value as children grow into adulthood,” says John Sommers-Flanagan, a member of the American Counseling Association who has extensive experience working with children, teens, and young adults. “Second, as long as the child and parent have an enjoyable experience, reading together improves the quality of their relationship. Third, [discussion of the reading material] creates potential delight in the exchanges between parent and child.”


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On that last point, it makes perfect sense that parents can form stronger, more loving bonds with their older kids when they have something to talk about besides homework, chores, and the week’s schedule of extracurricular activities. Reading together gives us something in common with our children, a touchstone that becomes especially important as they transform into tweens and teens and want nothing more than to be seen as individuals, separate from their totally bogus moms and dads. (Do kids today even say “totally bogus”? I’m clearly out of touch and need to find a teenager to read with ASAP.)

Raising our kids to be readers is truly one of the best gifts we can give them, and not just because it will help them do better in school but because reading for pleasure allows us learn about the world and the people in it -- including ourselves -- in a wholly unique way. Similarly, reading together with our children isn’t simply a gateway into a story, it’s a door into the hearts and minds of our kids, and I don’t know a single parent, with kids of any age, who doesn’t jump at the chance to turn that knob and take a peek.

Tell me about story time at your house. Is it something you can imagine carrying on until your kids grow up and move away?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Tatami_Skanks

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