Many of us have heard the Harry Truman quote “…all leaders are readers.” As trends in education inform us, these reading habits can be cultivated at a young age. Parents, teachers, and even older siblings help develop children’s mental, emotional, and academic growth simply by reading with them.

Priming the Brain

Even before babies and toddlers show evidence of language skills, their brains are forming patterns and connections that lay the foundation for future communication and learning. Several studies say that it’s best to begin reading with children as early as possible, even before they indicate any recognition of specific words or pictures on the page—and many of these studies also suggest limiting screen time.

One study of childrens’ neurological responses to media actually used MRI scanners to see what makes children’s brains “light up” and found that their learning centers are most effectively activated when they are being told a story and can see the pictures of a storybook.

By hearing stories, especially when also viewing interesting pictures, young children receive a huge boost in their language abilities. They develop bigger vocabularies faster and are more likely to build their skills of recitation and prediction, all of which make school (and any future learning) much more accessible. In addition, reading with children, while pointing to words and demonstrating how to sound them out, will hugely impact their own emerging literacy.

Building Empathy

Many are familiar with the practice of scooping the kiddo up onto their lap and opening a picture book to read out loud. In addition to being wonderful quality time that is low-cost and appropriately calming before bed, this pastime also aids their emotional development.

Although the research is still ongoing, many studies already indicate a strong correlation between fiction-reading habits and increased empathy. The most common explanation is that when people read about characters—their desires and their losses—these readers have a chance to put themselves into someone else’s shoes. In addition to receiving someone else’s story, they can ask questions like “What would I do if I were them?” or “How would I feel if that happened to me?” When adults read with children, they can prompt those kinds of questions and provide a safe environment to discuss.

Academic Benefits

All parents hope their children will achieve long-term success, which, for many, involves academic success in K-12 and thereafter college education systems. Once again, reading with children can help to build many of those essential foundational skills.

For example, memorization, summarization and interpretation are often at work in the majority of courses—all of which are cited and measured in elementary school reading assessments. Harder to measure but still important are skills like patience and problem-solving. Young children learning to read with a calming, trusted adult have a wonderful opportunity to sound out words and work through their own understanding, without giving up in frustration.

One of the biggest obstacles to a love of learning is the fear or discomfort that comes from feeling unprepared. With a solid foundation in reading for understanding and even entertainment, students can more easily approach complex tasks and ideas without becoming overwhelmed. Although parents cannot always accompany their growing children through school, they fulfill a vital role when they foster early reading habits.

Whether the children in your life are newborns, toddlers, or old enough to call themselves “big kids,” you can make a world of difference by reading out loud with them.

Mike Jack Stoumbos

Mike Jack Stoumbos is a published fiction author disguised as a believably normal school teacher. He earned his Masters in Teaching from the University of Washington, and has taught English, Math, Theatre, and ELL at the middle and high school level. Mike Jack is a 1st-place winner of the Writers of the Future contest and the first novel of his new science fiction series will be released in December 2021 through Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Learn more about Mike’s work at mikejackstoumbos.com, or find him on social media: