With the recent heightened awareness of racial injustice, we know that we need to change the world, and that millions of small actions can add up to a collective big change. Here is one thing that you, as a parent can do: read to your child.
Reading with your child isn’t just a nice thing to do; reading to your child is one way of literally changing the world!
When you share a book with your little one, you hold a portion of the world’s future in your arms and what you read to them will be embedded as normal. You can use this opportunity to share with them the inherent value of all individuals, no matter their colour, socioeconomic standing, gender, profession … anything that can be read as a difference.
Think of your own story: what are your memories of reading? And how did it influence you?
My love of getting lost in pages started when I was very small and even though I didn’t have many books, I loved them all and read them many times!
I had the four books by A.A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh, House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six. (Don’t you love the humour in those last two titles? One of my daughters wrote a book for a grade 4 project and dedicated it to me: “For my mother who raised me from childhood”! I guess she was already lifted from the murky depths of childhood by grade 4!).
Next to that was Peter Rabbit and all of the books by Beatrix Potter. (Have you seen the movie, Potter? It’s worth a watch.)
You likely won’t know these but I had two Pookie the Rabbit books, about a little rabbit with wings. I looked them up a few weeks ago, thinking I might order more for my grandkids, but they’re going from $500 to $2k per book! I’m wondering if I should sell the two that I have!
And then the last really big book memory was a Lady Bird book called, The Discontented Pony, which I read about 100 times, and felt very proud of knowing a big word like, “discontented”. There was another big word that came into my life through Beatrix Potter’s The Flopsy Bunnies: soporific. The little bunnies were very “soporific” after they ate Mr. McGregor’s lettuce. That stuffed, over-eaten, sleepy feeling that follows a festive meal is a good example of feeling soporific. I bet you have a new word now too!
Back to you:
- What were your books?
- What influenced how you thought and the words that you used?
- Do they carry nice memories?
- Who read to you? (My Dad and I laughed so hard over the antics of Winnie-the-Pooh that he often couldn’t keep reading!)
- Did you enjoy reading on your own?
These are the sort of memories that you are creating for your children. Even if you feel like they are only partly paying attention, remember those one million synaptic connections per second? (See post titled- Your Baby’s Brain – Part 1 of 3) Your child is taking in so much information, much more than you realize!
Here are some fun facts about the benefits of reading out loud to your children from The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics:
- “It helps children develop the mental processes of motivation, curiosity, and memory.
- It helps children develop early language skills.
- It provides a time for one-to-one attention and affection, which encourages children to have positive feelings about reading.
- It can help children cope during times of stress or tragedy.”
They also offer some tips to help reading to become a regular and enjoyable practice in your family:
- “Talk about the pictures in the books. Your child does not need to understand the whole story to enjoy it.
- Show your child the words. Run your finger along the words as you read them.
- Have fun. Animal books often have silly sounding words, so have fun making the sounds.
- Get your child to participate by asking a question about the story, such as “what do you think will happen next?” or “what color is this truck?”
- Use your local library. You can check out and read thousands of free books. Look to see if your library offers story hours or special events. (Post Covid, of course!)
- Make reading a part of every day; some easy times to consider are before bedtime or on the bus. Even reading to your child for only a few minutes is okay.
- Read books that relate to what your child is experiencing in life, including events like starting preschool, going to the dentist, or moving to a new home.”[i]
Check out this video of a creative dad reading with his little one!
She’s only two years old, super-distracted and squeally-excited at the beginning and, she doesn’t make it to the end of the book, however, it’s easy to see that even if reading doesn’t go exactly how the parent thinks it should, it is still successful!
Even if they seem distracted, a study coming from the University of Melbourne shows that reading daily to children 4-5 years old has a “significant positive effect on their reading skills and cognitive skills (i.e., language and literacy, numeracy and cognition) later in life.”
Isn’t it incredible how much so little can accomplish when we engage with small children?
They also noted that these findings were not “related to [parental income, education level or cultural background] but are the direct result of how frequently they have been read to prior to starting school.”
The study concludes by identifying reading as an “early-life intervention” with lifelong benefits.[ii] (emphases mine)
You’ve probably noticed that I love studies and stats! Remember how I felt proud of my big words? Here are the result of a study from Ohio State University that quantifies the benefits of reading to a child: it’s called: “A ‘million word gap’ for children who aren’t read to at home.”
The study determined approximately how many words kids who were never read to would have heard by the time they were five years old: it was 4,662 words.
But if they were read to:
- 1-2 times per week, they would have heard about 63,570 words,
- 3-5 times per week, 169,520 words,
- daily, 296,660 words, and
- five books a day, 1,483,300 words.
That is one million, four hundred and eighty-three thousand and three hundred words. The number took eleven words just to type out!
And that number marks the million-word gap of advantage versus disadvantage between those who are read to and those who aren’t.
The study goes on to say that the language heard through reading is going to include “much more complex, difficult words than they hear just talking to their parents and others in the home, [for example, you may read about] penguins in Antarctica — introducing words and concepts that are unlikely to come up in everyday conversation.”[iii]
I didn’t have penguins from Antarctica in the home when my kids were little; I still don’t! But they could know about them, just by reading a book.
Books really can be the doors and windows to a rich life experience for a child. Sharing books can generate ideas that can find their way to a child’s love for a particular subject that becomes a life-focus and later, their profession. Sharing quality books about us as a human race can be the building blocks for a new society that promotes kindness and acceptance of self and others regardless of background or skin colour.
If you are looking for books about race, here is one list to get you started. There are more links on my Facebook Page and Group: Laura Gillian – Intentional Parenting
There is everything good about sharing good things with your child through reading.
Make time to enjoy reading a book to your child today. Or, maybe two! They’ll love it! And the benefits are lifelong!
I’d love it if you would share this with your friends on your media!