There are few things as powerful as reading to a young child regularly. It provides incredible comfort and reassurance to youngsters, as well as confidence and security, relaxation, happiness, and pleasure. When you read a story to a child, it increases their self-esteem, vocabulary, and inventiveness, as well as their sleeping patterns. To find out more, Education UAE spoke to Bonita Smith, Head of Early Years and Pre-K Teacher at Dwight School Dubai, to get her take on reading to children at bedtime and why is it so important in the modern age.
EDUAE: Reading to children at bedtime is an age-old tradition, but why is it so important in a child’s development?
Bonita Smith: As an educator of young children, I am always faced with child development and in my opinion, reading promotes all of these on the proverbial ‘checklist’ whether it be social, emotional or even physical.
Reading is so important for children’s development. It promotes a bond between families, it sparks imagination and creativity, it expands vocabulary, it helps develop routine and structure and it improves mental wellbeing. These are but a glimpse of the benefits that reading has overall for children and if you were to ask this question to many other professionals that work with children, you would quite possibly get a variety of added benefits.
EDUAE: Were you read to as a child? Do you remember your favourite stories, even to this day?
Bonita:You would expect me to answer YES to this question. But, interestingly enough I was not really read to as a child. I was the daughter of two young, full time working parents who may not have fully understood the benefits of reading at that time. Don’t get me wrong however, my fond memories are of my mom singing to me at bedtime and my love for stories actually came from my older brother reading to me for his homework.
My favourite stories were books of poetry and rhymes. I remember wanting to be a poet as a young girl and dreaming of one day writing children’s poetry. Instead, here I am fulfilling an even greater role of being an educator and having the ability to read stories to children on a daily basis.
EDUAE: Is there an ideal length of time to read to a child before bedtime?
Bonita: You might just as well ask me: “How long is a piece of string”? I don’t think that reading should be a timed event. Instead, it should be distinguished by the length of the storybook, the ‘silly’ moments shared and the questions asked. My best moments of reading to my son come from the conversations we have during and after the stories. However, if there must be a time limit, I would say an average of 15-20 minutes before bedtime to promote that bedtime routine.
I remember wanting to be a poet as a young girl and dreaming of one day writing children’s poetry
EDUAE: Is it preferable to read to a child when they are in bed or just before?
Bonita: This is a personal choice and I believe that each parent knows their child well enough to determine what works well for them as a family. Personally, my son knows that when it is time for bed, he will fetch his chosen story and meet me in the room. He will already be in bed, and together we will explore the adventures that await us. This has helped build up to bedtime routine and allows him the chance to ‘switch off, calm down’ and become ‘sleep ready’.
EDUAE: Are bedtime stories a good opportunity to teach children primary colours, counting, shapes, and nursery rhymes in a fun, exciting, and age-appropriate way?
Bonita: Absolutely! Parents are their children’s first teacher. It is often the misunderstanding that children should learn all of these at school only. Being exposed to books from as young as six months old is the best learning tool, and we are so fortunate in today’s day and age to have books for various ages and stages available.
Being exposed to books from as young as six months old is the best learning tool
EDUAE: Even young children have to deal with stress – is this a good way to combat this?
Bonita: One of the benefits of reading, as I mentioned in my answer to your first question, is that it improves mental wellbeing. What better way to combat stress and daily life struggles than to transport yourself into a fantasy world where you can live out a dream or adventure? Children that develop a love for reading will grow up to be adults that develop a love for reading and I believe that this overall is a major effort to combating depression and anxiety.
EDUAE: Is it important to read from a good old-fashioned book, as opposed to reading off a Kindle or tablet?
Bonita: In my personal experience as a mother and a teacher, I have to say yes. There is nothing better than holding a book in your hands, opening the pages one by one and together with your child being mesmerized by colourful illustrations, various font sizes and magical moments. The visual journey of a ‘physical’ children’s book is something that simply cannot be replaced and should not be.
The visual journey of a ‘physical’ children’s book is something that simply cannot be replaced and should not be
EDUAE: Is there evidence to suggest if you read to children at a young age it will give them a love of books and reading that goes on into adulthood?
Bonita: I am no scientist, and I could easily have gone to ‘Google’ to find an answer to this question. Instead, I say this: not everyone who has been read to as a child loves reading or loves books as an adult. But one thing is certain, ‘knowledge is power’ and everything you choose to read or explore is a personal journey for yourself. For some people, it is a love of books, fiction, biographies, etc. For others it may simply be paging through a magazine or glancing at a newspaper, realistically reading has become so easy, that nowadays you simply put earphones in and be read to by a stranger.
Reading to your children at a young age should not be seen as a ‘chore’, ticking a parenting box or a race to whose child is more developmentally advanced. It should be something you do because it is fun, it builds connections and most importantly, because life is too short to simply say goodnight without first going on an adventure.