The benefits of reading to toddlers

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Reading for your toddler improves their cognitive development. (Net photo)

Reading problems can be challenging to fix when discovered in elementary school, yet most reading problems can be prevented if exposure to reading starts in the toddler and preschool years.

A child’s reading skills are important to their success in school, work, and life in general. It is very possible to help ensure your child’s success by reading to them starting at an early age, according to early childhood development experts.

Below are some of the reasons why reading to your children is beneficial to them in the long-run.

Improved language skills

Fiston Mudacumura, a children’s book publisher, says reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, can help with language acquisition and literacy skills. This is because reading to your children in the earliest months stimulates the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.

“While a child will be able to latch onto vocabulary and language they hear around them, introducing reading into their auditory learning provides another benefit; it introduces the language of books, which differs from language heard in daily life. Book language is more descriptive, and tends to use more formal grammatical structures,” he explains.

Cultivates a lifelong love of reading

Mudacumura adds that a lifelong culture of reading is cultivated early because every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to their brain.

“Reading is the key for lifelong learning, and if you can instill a love for reading at an early age, then a commitment to lifelong learning is sure to follow. Reading aloud presents books as sources of pleasant, valuable, and exciting experiences. Children who value books are motivated to read on their own, and will likely continue to do so throughout the rest of their lives,” he says.

Prepare for academic success

Gaudence Uwamahirwe, a primary school teacher, says reading to children is a true one-on-one opportunity for children to communicate with their parents and for parents to communicate with their children.

Numerous studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well when they reach the time for formal education.

“While children will encounter these skills once they reach elementary school and beyond, you can help spur their reading success by reading to them during infancy and their early years.

“While they won’t be able to practice fluency or phonics at that stage, they will get an earlier introduction to phonetic awareness, vocabulary and reading comprehension, all of which will set them up for success as they grow and interact with the world around them,” she argues.

Cognitive development

Grace Ayebale, a preschool teacher at Kigali Parents School, says reading to young children is proven to improve and help along the process of cognitive development.

“Cognitive development is the emergence of the ability to think and understand; it’s the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

“When you begin reading aloud to your child, it essentially provides them with background knowledge on their young world, which helps them make sense of what they see, hear, and read. In fact, researchers postulate that the talk that surrounds the reading gives it power to help children bridge what is in the story and their own lives rather than just the vocalization of the words. Introducing reading into your child’s life, and the conversations that it will prompt, helps them to make sense of their own lives, especially at a young age,” she explains.

Therefore, the more adults read aloud to their children, the more their vocabularies will grow and the more they will know and understand about the world and their place in it, assisting their cognitive development and perception, adds Ayebale.

A special bond with your child

According to early childhood experts, when parents read to their children on a regular basis it can help forge a stronger relationship with them. When it comes to children, one of the most important things a parent can do to positively influence their development is spending time with them.

Pierre Nzeyimana, the early childhood development officer at UNICEF Rwanda, says reading to children provides a great opportunity to set up a regular, shared event where you can look forward to spending time together, and your child will trust and expect that you will be there for them.

“Reading to your children not only helps you bond with them, but also gives your children a sense of intimacy and well-being. This feeling of intimacy helps your child feel close to you, and the feelings of love and attention encourage positive growth and development.

“With babies specifically, although they may not be able to understand what you’re saying when you read to them, reading aloud provides a level of invaluable nurturing and reassurance. Very young babies love to hear familiar voices, and reading is the perfect outlet to create this connection,” he says.

Nzeyimana adds that at its core, literature is one of the best ways to help kids understand something without necessarily having to experience it for themselves. “Reading to your child helps to expose them to all types of subjects and concepts, building the child’s understanding of humanity and the world around.”

Increased concentration and discipline

Experts also say introducing regular reading time into your child’s schedule has another benefit outside of creating shared time together in form of increased discipline and concentration. Very young children rarely sit still for long, and it’s often times difficult to get them to focus. But when introduced to regular reading, a parent may start to observe a change in children’s behaviour. Toddlers may initially squirm and become distracted during story time, but eventually they will learn to stay put for the duration of the book.

How to select children books

According to Thierry Uwamungu, a children book designer, very young children are attracted by brightly coloured pictures of simple objects. They are listeners, and respond well to books with simple texts and good rhythms.

“Children are delighted with board books and cloth books, which have the virtue of being practically indestructible. Books for very young children should also be coordinated enough to have constructive fun with toy-like books that may pop up, move, or provide other astonishments,” he says.

Uwamungu says publishers sometimes indicate on the cover of the book the age level or grade level for which they think that book is most suitable for or reading to or with children.