It’s a chilly Monday morning as “Teacher Jenna,” sits cross-legged on the carpet with a well-loved copy of the picture book “Zero” by Kathryn Otoshi in hand, reading each passage with a lively lilt to their voice and animated hand gestures. A group of children are gathered on the carpet in front, their reactions mixed but all engaged in some way; some have their eyes fixated on the brightly colored illustrations, others are rolling and playing with a variety of toys. As they read the story, Teacher Jenna makes sure to greet and make eye contact with each friend.

Teacher Jenna holds a hand to their chin in a pondering manner and their voice becomes curious to match the emerging conflict of the story. “But how can a number worth nothing…become something?” they ask with raised eyebrows, stretching out the words and looking at each child gathered on the carpet before continuing, allowing time for each to react or ask questions.

“Zero watched One having fun with the others! Which one is One?” they ask, holding the book out. One of the children scooched forward on their knees, excitedly tapping on the brightly illustrated number. Teacher Jenna grins and nods, and the child bounces in delight.

The story continues, with Teacher Jenna’s voice matching the actions and emotions of each character, asking questions, sharing observations, making space for children’s connections, and pointing to the various illustrations. One of the children even approaches mid-sentence and begins to trace the words and pictures themselves.

Like Teacher Jenna, many caregivers, teachers, and other adults read to children every day, significantly supporting children’s development. In fact, according to a study by the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning, listening to spoken language, even as an infant, can be healthy for brain and language development.

“The quantity of words that children hear is important for language development, but so is the quality of language that they hear,” the study finds. “Quality of language can refer to word diversity and to the quality of the speech signal.” In other words, children who read or have books read to them can be exposed to a wider variety of vocabulary words that may not appear in everyday speech.

According to another study by Ohio State University, children whose caregivers read even just one book per day to them may have been exposed to around 290,000 more words than children who are never read to.

Bonding, Discussion, and Empathy

“Reading books with relatable themes can lead to meaningful conversations about what’s happening in their lives,” says Dr. Laura Phillips, PsyD, ABPdN, with the Child Mind Institute. “The book can be a bridge to discussing something that a child might be experiencing themselves, and give [caregivers] a way to broach a topic without saying, for example, ‘Are you being bullied at school?’”

According to Phillips and the Child Mind Institute’s Hannah Sheldon-Dean, “books also help children build empathy and learn how to handle challenging feelings. Caregivers can use reading time as a chance to talk about emotions and how to cope with them.”

Tips

According to the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning, some great ways to make the most out of reading with a child are:

  • Make funny sounds or sing songs as you read or tell stories.
  • Pick a regular time to read to your child, like every morning, or at bedtime.
  • Choose books in your home language that focus on different topics, like animals, noises, or shapes.
  • Talk with your child about the pictures in the book.

We would also recommend these playful ways to make storytelling a collaborative activity:

  • Invite your child’s participation in holding the book and turning the pages.
  • Encourage your child to share what they observe about the illustrations.

National Reading Month may have come to an end, but there are still plenty of reasons to keep reading and enjoying stories every single day, no matter the age!