Whether it’s a classic such as Where the Wild Things Are or a new bestseller like The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, bedtime stories have always been a big hit with little kids. They are a hit with moms, dads, and educators too, thanks to the awesome brain and behavioral outcomes they offer. Studies link reading aloud to kids with academic success, creativity, and a stronger bond between parents and their children.
But it is only recently that science has started looking into why books promote these benefits. One recent study from Psychological Science suggests being read to builds a child’s vocabulary, and that in turn makes her/him more prepared to learn to read in the future. Study authors evaluated the types and variety of words in 100 picture books and then compared them to the words toddlers and preschoolers use and hear when communicating with their parents and caregivers. Their study found the books contained more unique words. The thinking is, “the more unique words kids are exposed to when they are very young, the bigger their own vocabulary gets — and that makes it easier to learn to read.”
Previous studies have shown the faster they pick up reading, the more academically successful they can be.
Another study out last month linked story time to a boost in brainpower. Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found kids ages 3 to 5, whose parents read to them at home and had more reading materials in their house, demonstrated more brain activity in the left side of the brain.
What does that mean? The left side is where word comprehension, language, and imagery are processed. The study suggests the more kids are read to, the more connections they make between words and objects. These new connections literally change their brain, preparing them academically and socially.
Story time has nonacademic benefits, too. Reading helps relax kids (hence the point of reading to them at bedtime), and the close physical interaction of lying near a parent helps them feel secure and connected.
For all these reasons, it is recommended that moms and dads begin reading to kids when they are infants, setting aside a special time (even for just a few minutes), cuddling up, and letting little ones select the book to read.
As for what to read at bedtime, you can select a variety of books featuring a diversity of words, but given how important it is to help build language skills in kids, the best book is the one your child wants to listen to.