Reading Aloud To Children Offers Social And Emotional Benefits, Study Shows

April 23 is World Book Day.

If you've ever watched "Reading Rainbow," you're well aware that you can go anywhere and you can be anything. After all, you need only "take a look, it's in a book." But, as researchers now recognize, reading aloud can help young children excel in areas beyond literacy. Reading aloud can help kids learn the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in life. 

According to "Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development," — a study published in the journal Pediatrics that surveyed 675 families with kids up to 5 years old such moments also have the potential to help curb problem behaviors such as aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention. 

Reading aloud and playing imaginative games may offer special social and emotional opportunities, Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study, told Perri Klass, M.D. for The New York Times. "We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters," he said. "They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness."

Thus, as it stands, reading aloud can expose children to new worlds and new ways of thinking in an effort to expand their capacity to interact with their environment. Reach Out and Read says that reading aloud to children:

  • Builds motivation, curiosity and memory
  • Helps children cope during times of stress or anxiety
  • Take children to places and times they have never been - enlarging and enhancing their worlds
  • Creates a positive association with books and reading

"Reading takes you beyond the easy way to communicate," Dominic Massaro, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Susan Frey for EdSource. "It takes you to another world and challenges you." 

Amy Joyce of The Washington Post writes: "One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world."

According to one study conducted by Scholastic, 77 percent of parents with children ages 0 to 5 started reading aloud to their child before age one, with 40 percent adding that they began reading aloud when their child was less than three months. Scholastic also established that children ages 6 to 11 and their parents enjoy read-aloud time because it's a special time together (72 percent and 77 percent respectively) and reading together is fun (66 percent and 67 percent).

However, as Reach Out and Read highlights, surveys show that only half of parents read to their young children daily and less than 10 percent read to their children from infancy.

"The key take-home message to me is that when parents read and play with their children when their children are very young — we're talking about birth to 3-year-olds — it has really large impacts on their children's behavior," Mendelsohn added. "All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they're helping them learn to control their own behavior," he explained, so that they will come to school able to manage the business of paying attention and learning.

Experts have always said that reading is fundamental, but as this new study demonstrates, it might be even more important to the foundation of every individual's success than we could've ever imagined. If you can, grab the nearest picture book and cozy up with your kids (or borrow your relatives!) — everyone involved will have fun and those young minds will be better off having spent some time with you.

(H/T: Scary Mommy)

Cover image via Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

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