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Should reading be a part of your family's bedtime routine?

November 27, 2016

You’ve eaten dinner as a family around the table, you’ve given the little ones a bath, gotten them into their pajamas, brushed their teeth, and sent them to bed- now relax! Chances are though, it didn’t go that easily. I know it doesn't in my house. Bedtime routines can be hectic, and adding one more thing to the list to do before bed may seem like a hassle, but the five minutes it takes to read your child a bedtime story can be so valuable to their development.

Why reading to your kids is so important

We have long known the benefits of reading to children. Research shows that reading to children stimulates their brains to grow in ways that could ultimately help in making them more successful in school, in life, in relationships and more. The benefits we all think about right off the bat are usually related to increased vocabulary and early literacy skills. However, a huge benefit we often do not think about is how reading to your child can improve their social and emotional skills and build a stronger parent-child relationship. 

Okay, so that's the boring stuff. As a resident pediatrician, I like the research. However, as a Dad, I want to know what I can do to to provide these benefits to my kid. And the nice thing about this is it is pretty easy to accomplish, and you get to spend more quality time with your kiddo, and who doesn't want that!?

How to fit reading into an already hectic schedule

As I mentioned before, one of the most frequent ways parents make daily reading happen is by building it into the nightly bedtime routine. After all the chaos of bath time, and after cleaning toothpaste off the wall, sitting down in a quiet spot with a book appropriate for your child gives you the chance to read in peace. Even more, it has the added benefit of calming everything down and potentially can make actually going to bed a bit easier for you and the little one.

Reading, talking, singing, and playing with your kiddo- it’s education hidden within the things they like to do anyway.

Although reading has been the focus here, there are other ways to provide similar benefits. Now, these should not replace reading to your kids, but they should reinforce the benefits of daily book reading. Singing to your child is a great way to introduce them to new words, and teach the emotion and stories that our words hold, and reinforces rhyming skills. And this is actually a key recommendation provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics to promote early education in young families.

Now for my favorite, and this one is easy and fun. Just play with your child! Play is all about storytelling- Why did that doll go over there? Oh we are in a castle now!? Tell me what those toys are doing? Make playtime active, ask who, where, why and how of your child. This gives them an opportunity to use those skills you have reinforced with daily reading.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the television, cellphone, and tablet are not a replacement for any of these. Watching TV or videos online is passive, whereas everything we have discussed here is active. Kids cannot have these literary skills just presented to them, they need to be involved.

Reading, talking, singing, and playing with your kiddo- it’s education hidden within the things they like to do anyway. And your job? Turn off the electronics, encourage these activities, and watch as your child grows and develops.

Oh, and enjoy every second of it.

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