bedtime stories

What Are the Benefits of Bedtime Stories?

Reading bedtime stories may be the perfect opportunity to offer some precious time and attention to your child, but did you know that this simple reading activity brings more benefits than simply preparing them to sleep? 

Reading bedtime stories is an excellent approach to enhancing your child’s learning abilities, from brain development to language skills and vocabulary. 

Delight your child with a good bedtime story or two regularly, and see these benefits unfold before too long. Here are five tremendous benefits of reading bedtime stories to your kids.

Bedtime stories have long been known to foster parent-child bonds and prepare children for sleep. But lately, researchers have attached other powers to this nighttime routine. 

They say that while you and your little one are sailing with Max to the land of the Wild Things or sampling green eggs with Sam, you’re boosting your child’s brain development.

Neural research shows that when parents and caregivers interact verbally with children—including reading to them—kids learn a great deal more than we ever thought possible. 

These gains range from improved logic skills to lower stress levels. But perhaps the most profound benefit discovered in recent years is the way bedtime stories can rewire children’s brains to quicken their mastery of language.

There’s a clear indication of a neurological difference between kids who have been regularly read and those who have not. 

The good news is that these discrepancies don’t have to be permanent. For example, researchers have found that electronic images of children’s brains considered poor readers show little activity in the verbal-processing areas. 

But after the researchers spent one to two hours a day for eight weeks reading to the poor readers and performing other literacy exercises with them, their brain activity had changed to look like that of the good readers.

Here’s how the rewiring works: When you read Margaret Wise Brown’s classic bedtime story, Goodnight Moon, to your baby, exaggerating the oo sound in the moon and drawing out the word hush, you’re stimulating connections in the part of her brain that handles language sounds (the auditory cortex). 

In English, there are 44 of these sounds, called phonemes, ranging from ee toss. The more frequently a baby hears these sounds, the faster she becomes at processing them. 

Then, when she’s a toddler trying to learn the language, she’ll more easily be able to hear the difference between, say, the words tall and doll. 

As grade-schooler learning to read, she’ll be more adept at sounding out unfamiliar words on the page.

To break down unknown words into pieces, you have first to know the details. For example, when kids hear the word cat, they usually hear it folded up as one sound (cat) instead of three (cat). 

But when asked to say cat without the c, thus deleting the cut sound to make at, they’ll more readily understand that words are made up of individual sounds. Reading rhyming books to kids is one way to help them practice this skill.

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The Benefits of Reading Bedtime Stories

It may not come as a shock that reading to children is majorly beneficial to their development. But did you know that a child’s reading level in third grade is a crucial indicator of their future educational success? 

If they can’t read at grade level by third grade, they’re four times less likely to graduate. Luckily you’re an excellent parent who’s ready to teach them the joy of reading from a young age, right? 

Because if you’re reading this article, then you care about your little ones and want to learn how reading out loud helps their growth. 

So without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at how your kiddo can benefit from bedtime stories.

bedtime stories (2)

Contributes to Your Child’s Brain Development

Studies over the years have shown that parents reading to their children positively impacts their brain development and activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension. 

According to a 2015 study from the journal AAP, higher reading exposure was positively correlated with neural activation in the left-sided parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex, a “hub” region supporting semantic language processing. 

This means that reading bedtime stories to your child helps them develop mastery of the language through sounds, visuals and words that can be added to their vocabulary. It’s never too early to start reading to your child. 

Regardless of whether they are too young to be capable of speech, reading aloud from birth helps your child become familiar with the language and develop pre-literacy skills that allow them to succeed by the time they enter school. 

Building an Inner Dictionary

To enhance a child’s language skills, even more, parents can use storytime as a stepping stone for conversation. 

For instance, if a mother points to Curious George’s baseball cap and asks her child, “Do you have a hat like that?” She’s offering him practice in using language correctly.

However, we caution parents not to correct their child’s speech errors continually. 

In time, reading with a child will expand her vocabulary even more than just talking with her will. That’s because books can introduce kids to ideas and objects—such as porridge or kangaroos—that are out of their natural environment and therefore not a part of their daily conversation. 

Look for stories that contain particularly rich or colourful language, like the works of Caldecott-winner William Steig, who often drops four-star words such as discombobulated and sinuous into his books.

It Enriches Their Language Development on Multiple Levels.

We’ll start with the most obvious benefit: better language skills for your little ones. 

Shared reading can teach children many new skills, from reading comprehension to listening skills and overall literacy. 

But just because your child starts to develop the ability to read on their own, it doesn’t mean you have to stop reading together. 

As long as it continues to be a fun and educational experience for them, keep it going!

Help Lower Stress Levels

Stress management based on reading can be just as effective in kids as it is in adults. 

Reading helps your child’s mind wander off to places they haven’t been to and takes them on an adventure that goes beyond the environment they’re used to seeing. 

Reading allows us to leave our troubles behind in adults, allowing our muscles to relax and loosen up. 

Meanwhile, in kids, cuddling with a parent for a bedtime story reduces cortisol levels which helps them relax and concentrate better. 

It Grows Their Imagination and Appreciation for Stories.

One study found that when preschool children were read out loud to, the areas of their brains that handle mental imagery and narrative comprehension were activated. 

That means that their little imaginations were hard at work as they created their understanding of the story they were being read. 

That’s the beauty of reading versus watching television or movies — the children have to use their imagination and gain a better appreciation for a well-crafted story.

Enhance Their Language and Communication Skills

Conversations are better when you talk about something both you and your child can relate to. This is when the importance of reading a book comes in. 

Please encourage your child to engage in a conversation while reading them bedtime stories. 

Communication is an essential social skill, which can be honed through conversations about the books you’ve read. 

Make reading an interactive experience by letting your child guess what’s next in the story and what made them think so. Make it known to your child that all opinions are welcome to get them comfortable speaking out their thoughts. 

Take turns in reading, use funny voices, emphasise phonemes and teach them about the sounds of each vowel in your words. 

Getting familiar with these different vowel sounds helps your child get better with pronunciation and distinguish the differences between each sound. 

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It Gives Them an Outlet for Empathy.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to look at our actions through the lens of fictional characters in a book. 

If the protagonist is having a tough time with something in their life, we can often relate and ponder our challenges and deal with them. 

Well, it’s the same with toddlers — only even more important. The children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters. 

They learn to use words to describe otherwise tricky feelings, enabling them to control their behaviour better when they have challenging emotions like anger or sadness.

Soothing Snuggles

To best confer reading’s cognitive benefits, a child’s experiences with books should be enjoyable. More than anything, you want him to associate reading with emotional warmth and fun.

When kids are cozy and comfortable, reading aloud to them can even lower their stress levels. When a child experiences any strain—such as being bullied or starting a new school—his brain tries to protect him by producing cortisol, which activates the body’s “fight or flight” response.

In small doses, cortisol can help kids handle everyday stress. In more significant amounts, however, it can block learning.

While there have been no scientific studies on how bedtime stories affect children with spiked cortisol levels, neuroscientists say it stands to reason that being read an ordinary book while snuggling close to a parent can comfort a child, thus lowering his cortisol levels to help him concentrate better. 

To enhance the calming nature of story time at your house, cuddle up with your child in a comfortable place, with his favourite blankets and stuffed animals nearby.

Relax and enjoy being with your child. Just think of what that close time you’re spending together will do for your cortisol levels!

Improve Logic Skills

Have you ever had a child ask you to read their favourite book each night for a week or more? 

You may grow tired of reading that book over and over, but with repetition comes mastery and observation. 

Children would start to notice patterns as they repeat them. Then, finally, they’ll start to remember words that rhyme. 

And learn to predict the possible outcomes of certain scenes using context clues they pick up from stories you are reading. 

Developing these skills at an early age can help your child later on in school as they tackle math problems and observe structures and patterns to understand various sequences in a logical manner. 

This exercise of logic also helps promote critical thinking and sound reasoning. 

Encourages Your Child to Love Reading 

Want to spark your child’s love for books at an early age? Make a habit of reading bedtime stories to your child as early as right now. Kids of all ages love bedtime stories. 

Not just for the one-on-one time while snuggled up in a nice warm blanket with you, but for the relaxing feeling that helps them unwind after a long day in school. 

This pleasant experience creates a sense of comfort in your child, which cultivates their love for reading and motivates them to read independently. In addition, it builds their vocabulary so they can be well-spoken.

Honestly, who wouldn’t want their toddler to casually drop a word like “bequeath” in conversation to a table full of stunned in-laws? 

OK, we can’t guarantee that situation. Still, a study at Rhode Island Hospital found that babies who were regularly read to had a more extensive “receptive” vocabulary than babies who weren’t, meaning they understood more words. 

And once they get those words down, we all know there are no stopping kids from repeating their new favourite dishes over and over again.

Bedtime stories

It Encourages Engagement and Conversation.

It might seem frustrating at first if your child is getting easily distracted and keeps interrupting the story with questions.

But realise this is an excellent opportunity to help them tie the story in with the outside world to understand it better. 

Keep them engaged and attentive by relating it to recent events: “Yeah, she likes puppies! Remember that puppy we saw yesterday?”

It Offers a Chance to Be Silly With Your Little One.

Being a parent means you don’t always get to be the good guy. But when it’s storytime, it’s a space for no holds barred goofiness.

Experiment with different voices and maybe even act out the story a bit. Then, draw from your inner actor and go wild — most kids love a little movement and noise with their stories, so give them what they want!

With all the busyness of parenting, it’s nice to have a little time carved out of the day for sitting and relaxing with a story. 

And now that you know how beneficial it can be, there’s no excuse not to grab a book and get a few chapters in with your kiddos. 

Best Books for Bedtime

These stories stand out for meeting both the language and emotional needs of their target age group.

Birth to 3

  • Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker (Harcourt)
  • The Everything Book by Denise Fleming (Henry Holt)
  • “More, More, More,” Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams (William Morrow)
  • Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill (Putnam)

4 to 7

  • Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins)
  • Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas (Dutton)
  • Pass the Celery, Ellery! by Jeffrey Fisher Gaga (Stewart Tabori & Chang)
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking)

8 to 12

  • Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say (Walter Lorraine)
  • More Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron (Knopf)
  • A Poke in the I by Paul Janeczko (Candlewick)
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (William Morrow)

How to Get Back in the Routine

So you’re sold on keeping your 8:00 p.m. standing date — but your kid, not so much. To dull resistance:

Do it Gradually 

Start with every other day, and don’t replace independent reading. Instead, read a bit together before or after he’s read alone for a little while.

Take Turns 

Alternate reading pages or chapters.

Add a Hook 

We’re going to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and then we’ll rent the movie.” Or “Harry’s Butterbeer sounds so good. Let’sSo let’s try to make some after we finish this chapter.

Don’t Limit it to Bedtime. 

Shared reading can happen anywhere, anytime. If you do stick to Bedtime, consider pushing the time back. He may be reacting more to going to bed earlier than to reading along with you.

What Kids Gain

Time With You. 

By keeping your bedtime routine alive, you and your child get to do something new together — cheer for the good guys and boo the bad ones in the books you read. 

You also get a peek into how your child sees the world through the comments she makes on the plot, the characters, and the setting.

Because you enter her world through the safe avenue of a third party — a character — you’ll have more insight than you ever would by asking, ‘So, how’s life?’. And, who knows, you may even find you have opinions in common!

Stronger Reading Skills. 

Reading demands increase as kids reach the upper-elementary grades, yet one-on-one reading instruction for competent readers doesn’t. 

Listening to you read more advanced books shows her strategies that will help her at school. Then, you read aloud with expression. 

You pause for punctuation. You raise and lower your voice in tune with the action. You speed up or slow down to indicate the degree of tension in the text.

New Perspectives. 

Reading aloud with children, especially fourth and fifth-graders, teaches them to analyse and reflect on the text. 

A headstart on the future. Kids who are already fluent readers can do something their snuggle bunny sibs can’t: appreciate the author’s craft. 

If they hear good writing often enough, it develops their ear. So they can’t help but replicate it in schoolwork.

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