Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats to Katrina Roe about the power of reading to children.
The more children are read to, the more they will flourish mentally, emotionally and even socially.
That’s what the research shows, says parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson. He’s a big advocate of parents reading to their kids and says it’s far better than homework for developing a child’s academic ability.
“Reading is probably the best thing to expand their vocab, to be literate, to stimulate their curiosity,” he said. “They learn listening skills, they learn comprehension skills, they learn about how to regulate their behaviour when we read to them, and they learn how to regulate their emotions as we read them a story that makes them feel things. There are so many developmental advantages.”
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In fact a daily habit of reading to your children will give them a 12 month advantage on kids who are not being read to, according to one study, says Dr Coulson.
Even better, they develop socially, by growing in their empathy as they learn to take a walk in the shoes of a character who is different to them.
“That’s been shown empirically,” Dr Coulson said. “We get to see the world through somebody else’s eyes when we read a book. We get to feel what that other person feels because we’re literally stepping into their shoes.”
Australian Parents Need to Read to Their Kids More
Studies have shown that Aussie parents aren’t reading to their children regularly enough, says Dr Coulson, with more than 50 percent of babies and toddlers not being read to daily in one study, and that same figure at 46 percent for three-to-five-olds.
“What concerns me is that as they get older, once they’re in grades 4 to 6 it seems that about 60 percent of kids are not being read to at home at all,” Dr Coulson said.
Having done a lot of research into the effects of screens on children, Dr Coulson is a big advocate for restricting screen time, and getting rid of ipads altogether if necessary.
“Screens are, more than anything, reducing our relationship time,” he said. “They reduce our opportunity for reading or playing games or just connecting, looking into one another’s eyes and recognising that we’re all human and talking to each other.”
Even reading books from an ipad isn’t great. There are too many other distractions on the screen, and children miss the full benefit of reading a physical book made of old fashioned paper.
“Often the ipad will have activities, bells and whistles and dings and pops, and those kinds of things distract kids from the story,” Dr Coulson said. “We might read something and want to talk to the kids and they’re like ‘swipe left, let’s move to the next page’, they want that stimulation that the ipad gives. And it’s not in their best interests.”
Tips for Getting the Kids More Interested in Reading
For parents whose children don’t want to read, Dr Coulson says it’s worth rethinking what you are giving them to read.
“It might be the books you’re choosing,” he said. “Choose fun books. We’ve got a book at the moment that my kids love. It came out last year, called The Book With No Pictures…the person who’s reading it has to make funny noises and really embarrass themselves. And the kids just think it’s fantastic.
“Fun books draw children into loving reading, and being able to explore what it means to play with words and sounds and get caught up in the story.”
Dr Coulson also encourages parents to use reading time with children as a chance to talk about things together. As a parent, he reads to his own children, even his teen daughters.
“We talk about the big issues in the books – the relationship breakdown, the friendship or boyfriend-girlfriend drama, the kid who tried a substance that was not in their best interests to try. It opens up some wonderful conversations, and the kids love it because we’re not talking about them, we’re talking about the character in the book,” he said.
“It’s important we make time to talk and slow down and ask questions. And read our childrens’ body language as we read the book. We might see them jump or startle, or we might see them start to tear up or sniffle. It’s so important that we recognise that and engage in a conversation.”