Doing this one thing can help you raise happy and smart kids

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THIS one thing leads to happy smart kids - reading to children every day

So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray,

Go throw your TV set away,

And in its place you can install,

A lovely bookshelf on the wall

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Do you read to your child everyday? Do you often mean to but, come the end of a long, busy day, you just don’t have the energy or the time? If so, you’re not alone.

The bedtime story used to be an ingrained tradition in homes up and down the land but now it’s on the decline. Without it our children are missing out on an awful lot more than just listening to a nice story before they fall asleep.

Just 6 years ago, in 2013, as many as 69% of parents read a book to their preschool child each day. In 2018 this figure took a massive dip and now only half of all parents of preschoolers read to their child each day.

Why? When questioned parents gave perfectly valid reasons such as  “the struggle to find energy at the end of the day” and “the child’s preference to do other things”.

Somehow, over the years, reading a bedtime story has now become more of a chore and less of a daily pleasure. And it can mean that our kids are missing out.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, along with this decline there has been a sharp rise in the amount of screen time our children have each day. And experts believe that swapping books for screens is damaging our children’s development.

Reading to children makes them smarter

The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

Dr Seuss

The power of being read to each day is often underestimated even today. Reading books out loud to children has so many positive benefits. The more children read, the more they learn and the better they can do in school.

A long running study, The British Cohort Study, followed the lives of 17,000 children from 1970 to the present day. Researchers found that children who read books regularly at age 10 scored more highly on tests across a wide range of academic subjects. They were better at spelling and vocabulary but also, perhaps surprisingly, scored better in maths tests too.

This one thing leads to happy smart kids - reading to children every day

How can reading books help with maths?

Researchers think that reading opens a child’s mind to new ideas and helps them to understand new information and concepts when they are introduced at school. Even if they have nothing to do with the book they were reading.

It also improves the memory, which can help when learning mathematical rules and formulas too.

The study found that the impact of reading made a huge difference to later academic success. The impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.

Alison David, consumer insight director at the children’s publisher Egmont, stresses the importance of reading aloud to our children, saying:

It’s been found to be even more important for children in terms of later academic success than the family’s socio-economic status. So, really, it’s incredibly important.

 

Reading to our children makes them happier

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. Walt Disney

This one thing leads to happy smart kids - reading to children every dayBooks are not only good for the mind, but for the body. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘getting lost in a book’. It’s a great way for children to escape from the pressures and stress of everyday lives.

As parents we want to do all we can to protect our children’s emotional well being. It turns out the key to doing so might lie on the bookshelves in our homes.

Research from the National Literacy Trust found that children who read for pleasure and who are more engaged in reading and writing are three times more likely to have high levels of mental well-being than those that don’t.

They have better coping skills and higher self-belief than their peers who don’t read much.

The effect seems to be even higher for boys, who love reading, than girls.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, commented on the findings, saying:

Children and young people today face a multitude of pressures at school, at home and in their social lives. It is imperative that we do everything we can to enable our children to develop the resilience they need to cope with life’s challenges … Not only does a love of reading and writing enable children to flourish at school, but we now also know it can play a vital role in supporting children to lead happy and healthy lives.

One of the ways reading improves mental wellbeing is that it increases a child’s vocabulary and gives them more tools to express how they are feeling. Writing a diary or poetry or short stories can be a great outlet for their thoughts and feelings.

But reading, or being read to, also can have some more physiological calming effects on children.

Just six minutes of reading can lower the heart rate and ease muscle tension. Almost instantly your child’s stress levels are lowered and they begin to relax. And stress levels can be reduced by a whopping 69%. That’s a pretty powerful effect.

Raising a reader starts with reading aloud

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. Emilie Buchwald

This one thing leads to happy smart kids - reading to children every dayThere’s a lot of evidence that reading for pleasure can makes your child smarter and happier.

And the best way to foster a love of books is to read to your child right from the start – and read to them often.

Making time to read a bedtime story as part of your child’s nightly routine, not only gives them these great benefits but it also creates a lovely, peaceful moment together for the two of you.

Jackie Kennedy was quite right when she said:

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.