Reading To Kids Is More Than Brain Food

Reading is powerful brain food, but the power of reading to kids lies in the bond we develop with our children over a shared book, a shared moment of magic.


​I’ll never forget the moment we found out we were pregnant with our first child.

Words like excited, scared, nervous, terrified, joyful, happy and every other adjective in between described us and the utter awesomeness of this little miracle that would make our family grow.

And like a lot of new parents, we devoured every parenting book, attended every new parent class and were given lots of advice from not-so-new parents on what to do and not to do- whether we asked for this advice or not!

A recurring theme we continued to read and hear about was the importance of reading to kids and to our baby starting in utero and beyond. Phil and I have always had a love of books (makes sense since we started a children’s book company!) and were excited to share this love with our baby.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a new policy recommending all parents read to their children from birth. They understood the research was mounting in the importance of brain building in the first five years of life, especially the rapid development from birth to age three.

An article by The Urban Child Institute stated that between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.

Those are powerful statistics, but the research goes further to say the special bond that occurs between parent and child when a book is shared is unbeatable.

In a world where it often seems difficult to find time to connect with our kids, reading is an easy and oftentimes inexpensive way (free with a library card) to share a moment together. Reading a book doesn’t allow for you to do anything else at the same time. Your child has your undivided attention.

​The Stages Of Reading To Kids

Reading in Utero

In the 1970s and 80s, research was being done about the development of babies in the womb. Studies found babies were more active when a book was read to them and suggested a baby could identify the mother’s voice shortly after being born.

Dr. Seuss was fascinated with these findings. In fact, there’s a Dr Seuss book written especially for reading to babies before they’re born.

The book is called Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! and is an adaptation from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss’ last book he wrote before he died in 1991.

We read Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! to all three of our children while in utero. The book makes a great gift for new parents-to-be.

Other books to be read while your baby is in the womb can really be anything you’d like to read aloud. Enjoy this time reading to your baby as it will be the last where there are no interruptions!

Reading to Babies

Those first weeks of parenthood were a blur. Our only goal was to make sure our babies were getting enough to eat, counting wet diapers, deciphering their cries and doing all of it on NO SLEEP.

We were worried about their physical health and not as concerned with the health of their brains. Besides, how could our little bundle of (screaming!) joy absorb anything meaningful when we read aloud to them?

We soothed and calmed our baby by cuddling, swaddling, singing and chatting. And it seemed when we read aloud a book, our baby also calmed down from hearing our voice.

Birth to 12 Months

1. Board, cloth or vinyl books are best since babies will gnaw, drool and tear them

2. Choose books with high-contrast pictures since baby’s vision is developing

3. Bright colors and large pictures (few pictures per page)

4. Find books with words baby hears in their daily life such as “mommy,” “daddy,” “doggy”

Reading to Toddlers

Kids love routines. Early on, we began a nightly bedtime routine consisting of the Three B’s: Bath, Brush and Books.

Not only did our bedtime routine entertain and soothe, it was developing vocabulary, learning and promoting a lifelong love of reading and books. Perhaps even more importantly, reading was teaching our kids the social-emotional skills as discussed in our review of the The Toddler Brain.

Perhaps you’ve said to your kids, “Use your words.”

We’ve said it… a lot.

Young children may not know how to express those feelings. Books allow for vocabulary to be used around social-emotional words such as frustrated, confused, nervous and curious. Words you don’t always use in day to day conversation with a really young child, but words you would in a book. Whether the word is written or you are pointing to faces to describe a feeling, reading to kids allows children to learn how to express their feelings.

13 to 24 Months

If you’ve spent time with a toddler, then you know they have short-attention spans. Making reading FUN is the name of the game.

1. Consider interactive books containing peepholes, puppets or mirrors

2. The sillier the better! Act out what you see on each page (i.e. make animal noises)

3. Invite your child to participate by asking questions such as ‘Where is your belly button?” or pointing to a picture and asking “What’s that?”

4. Since kids love routines, they may ask you over and over to read the same book. Do it! The repetition helps children remember words.

5. Pictures of babies and familiar objects

2 to 3 Years

1. Picture books

2. Activity books with pop-ups or texture

3. Rhyming books

4. Counting books

5. ABC books

6. Colors and shapes

Reading to Preschoolers

The best way to prepare your child to enter Kindergarten is through reading. As kids listen to books, their literacy and social-emotional skills grow – but perhaps just as important are their growing attention spans. These skills prepare them for school where they will need focus and attention, shared interaction and understanding others emotions.

At this age, a fun way to foster a love of reading is by building a reading nook with your child. If you missed it, check out our post about creating a special reading nook with your child.

3 to 5 Years

1. Personalized books all about them

2. Storylines relating to their life

3. Nursery rhymes

4. Books with good rhythm and word repetition

Reading to Kids in Elementary

The benefits of reading to kids doesn’t stop when they reach elementary school. A large percentage of parents assume once a child begins to read on his/her own that is what the child should do.

According to a report released by Scholastic, a children’s book publisher, reading to kids- out loud- through elementary school is connected to a love of reading in general. Children said that reading with their parents was a special bonding time. A time they cherished.

The report also stated that kids will learn more vocabulary when reading higher-level books with a parent because they are more likely to try and understand what the word means.

At this age, we’ve decided to let our children read what interests them.

Our boys love anything to do with bodily functions and comic-book illustrations. We could have said no to these types of books, but we decided if it keeps them entertained and reading, then we are okay with it.

Or perhaps your child is interested in the sports section of the newspaper, or history, mystery or fact books? Choose whatever topic and type that your child thinks is fun.  If they don’t think it’s fun, they won’t want to read it.

Our three children are now in elementary school. School activities, homework and screen time now compete for reading time, but we have made reading a priority everyday. Sometimes it’s only 15 minutes before bedtime while other days it’s more.

As we mentioned at the beginning, reading is powerful brain food for children, but the power in reading to kids lies in the bond we develop with our children over a shared book, a shared moment of magic.

Now that’s something every parent can get behind.

MarbleSpark is proud to be a partner with Read Aloud 15 Minutes, an organization promoting reading aloud 15 minutes to every child, every day.

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