‘Again Mummy, please read it again!’
As much as any parent loves cuddling up with their children at the end of the day, I’m sure I’m not the first one to feel reluctant about reading my daughter’s favourite story for what feels like the tenth time in a row. With my mind firmly mulling over my extensive ‘to-do’ list that I need to get a handle on, before I can even think about putting my feet up with a glass of wine, I find myself attempting to skip the odd page and speeding through the words, before trying to extract myself from her vice-like neck grip as she begs, ‘Just one more!’
However, bedtime stories are more important than we may think and with 75 per cent of brain development occurring in the first two years of life, reading to your child helps to develop their future social, communication and learning skills.
I spoke to Sue Palmer, a literary expert and consultant, who has written numerous books on child development about how you can get the most about of your story time together and why it matters.
Boosting their brains
Experts agree that the more you read your child’s favourite story to them, the better.
Sue says: ‘In the 21st Century everything moves so fast and it is easy to lose track of the fact children need a lot of repetition because this is how they learn. By repeating the words of a beloved book over and over again, this lays down neural networks in the brain and helps to embed all sorts of things, including language patterns, word vocabulary and memory.’
It is never too later to start reading to your little one. In studies at Yale University and the University of Austin in Texas, images of the brains of children who were considered poor readers showed minimal activity in the areas related to verbal processing. However, after researchers spent up to two hours a day reading to them over a number of weeks, the brain activity changed to be in line with those who were considered good readers.
Brilliant for bonding
‘When you read a bedtime story to your baby or toddler, you are giving them your time and attention, which is one of the most precious gifts we can offer to our children,’ Sue explains. ‘They will also be giving attention to you and this reciprocal attention is what humans get the biggest kick out of.’
One study from the University of New York showed that reading in an interactive style to your baby raises her IQ by six points. So put on silly voices, ask questions and get your child involved in telling the story.
Helps with language development
Listening to stories will help your child understand the patterns of language.
‘The rhythmic pattern of a book is like a song and very comforting,’ Sue says. ‘Babies crave these rhythms of sound and the patterns and tunes of language. One of the things that makes children understand and pick up the structure of language is having lots and lots of stories read to them.’
If your child struggles to relax before bed, reading books can be a useful tool.
‘Reading is one of the best ways to prepare you baby or toddler for sleep,’ Sue says. ‘Children need quiet time to wind down and reading bedtime stories is a cosy, loving sleep cue.’
It’s a key time for learning too; recent research at the University of Sheffield has also shown that children absorb the most information before they go to sleep.
Makes them focus
Your child might become easily distracted when your start reading to them but this soon improves.
‘Reading is critical for all the self-regulation skills children have to develop,’ explains Sue. Mastering self-discipline, longer attention span and better memory retention will all help them develop essential skills that have a lasting, life-long impact.