Ask I-LABS Outreach: Finding Surprising Moments to Read to Kids

How can busy parents fit enriching, brain-building moments that come from reading to children into an already packed schedule? One parent talks about how she made reading to her daughter part of her routine.

My enthusiasm for reading goes back a long way. My father likes to tell the story of how I used to toddle up to him as a young child and demand “Town Mouse, Country Mouse! Read it!” He would intentionally skip pages or words, and I would make him start at the beginning and "read it right."

Now that I have a young daughter, I’m excited to pass my love of reading along to her. It’s cool to think about how an activity I enjoy doing with her has so many built-in benefits, such as encouraging parent-child interactions, complex thinking skills, and language development—see my earlier "Ask I-LABS Outreach" post, "What are the Benefits of Reading to Babies?" for tips on how to make the most of reading to young children.

But honestly—despite all the benefits of reading to our children, sometimes it can be a struggle to find time. Between work, chores, playtime, and everything else (Really? Did it really just take me half an hour to change her diaper and put on her pajamas?!), it can be easy to put off reading for another day.

When I have these moments, I remind myself that all the good things associated with reading don’t always have to come from opening a book. I’ll tell a story using toys my daughter plays with, or I’ll give her a replay of my day and use different voices for my co-workers (they shouldn’t worry-the stories are always very flattering!).

Reading together gives a great opportunity for back-and-forth interactions, which is how children learn best. My girl is still a baby, so our interactions over books are more about strengthening our social-emotional bond and language development. I'll cuddle her as we look at her board books together, and I'll point and name the things we see on the pages. (The I-LABS online training module "The Importance of Early Interactions" talks more about the science behind this.)

When my daughter is older, reading together can help develop more complex cognitive skills. We might discuss book characters and what they're thinking or feeling.

Whether I always have time or not, I try to make reading a central part of my daughter’s life. I hope that she’ll grow to love books as much as I do, and soon I will be the one who is instructed to read on demand and I will be the one who is corrected by a gap-toothed grin when I skip a sentence.

More Tips for Finding Time

One way to incorporate reading aloud into daily life is to make it a part of a routine. Perhaps a book can be incorporated into a nightly bedtime or morning breakfast routine. If you don’t feel comfortable reading aloud, you can still use a book as a way to engage with your child. Use the pictures in the book to tell your own story, or if your child is talking, encourage them to be the storyteller! Whichever method you choose, reading and talking about books early and often is a wonderful way to spend quality time with your children.

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About the Author:
Jennifer Larson, PhD
Larson is a former I-LABS Outreach Specialist. She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Colorado, where her research focused on the developing auditory system. She now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

About "Ask I-LABS Outreach:" This is an occasional series based on discussions the I-LABS Outreach team has with parents, caregivers, educators, and others interested in the science of early learning and how it applies to everyday interactions with children. Suggest a topic by emailing ilabsout@uw.edu.

See Previous Posts
How Can I Make My Child Exceptionally Smart?
What's the Big Deal About Screen Media?
How Similar is Theater to I-LABS Research?
How Do Babies Learn Two Languages at Once?
What are the Benefits of Reading to Babies?

Follow the series on the I-LABS website, Facebook or Twitter pages. Or, sign up for the quarterly Outreach newsletter by emailing ilabsout@uw.edu.

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