By Jeannie Kim, REDBOOK
As a lifelong lover of books, I always looked forward to sharing the joy of reading with my own children someday. So when my daughter was barely a month old, I sat down and read to her for the first time, snuggling her in one arm with a copy of Guess How Much I Love You in the other. And... nothing. Rose goggled at me blankly, as 4-week-old bundles of baby mush do, and I felt more than a little silly.
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Fast forward two and a half years, and reading is now one of our most beloved shared activities. Turns out, it's had real benefits for both of us. We've all heard about how children who read to often become stronger students. But reading also benefits kids in ways that aren't directly measured by grades and test scores. "It really does help develop key pieces of brain architecture," says Kim Davenport, senior vice president of education and programs for Jumpstart, a national early-education organization. "When children are engaged with a story, they're learning to understand the world around them. They're developing vocabulary, critical thinking, and other crucial literacy and language skills."
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That's true for even the youngest children. A study at the University of Kansas found that the more 10- to 18-month-old children were read to, the larger their vocabularies. And reading gives kids more than just a pocket full of words, says Susan Neuman, Ed.D., a professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan and author of A Parent's Guide to Reading to Your Young Child. "They're learning about knowledge, that print represents ideas," Neuman explains. "They also learn to pay attention and focus, which is very important for self-regulation and school success." Even in the Internet age, books provide benefits no screen can give: They contain a richer, more complex vocabulary than any other medium, Neuman says.
Beyond the developmental and academic benefits, parents and experts alike say that reading together, whether your child is 13 months or 13 years old, is a wonderful way to bond. In reading aloud, parents tend to slow down their speech in the same way they would when speaking to a baby. "That 'motherese' is very soothing," Neuman says. "Combine that with one-on-one attention and a child develops a great sense of intimacy."
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Here's how families make reading a priority-and a pleasure:
"I know that reading to my two kids helps them learn, but that's not my main motivation. For me, it's more about the cuddle time. I am a working mom, so there's not a lot of time to just sit with the kids. Reading books forces me to slow down, point out interesting things about the pictures, or ask my kids questions about the stories. It makes them smile, which of course makes me smile."-Allison Ellis, 39, Seattle
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"I am a mother of two teenage girls and still read to them in the evenings. It helps us maintain that close mother-daughter bond, and when problems with peers surface, it helps solidify that as a parent, I will always love them unconditionally."-Dawn Lee Snell, 48, Reno, NV
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"My son struggled with reading. We tried to spend 15 minutes every night doing it together without interruptions. I'd set the kitchen timer, then he would read a page (sometimes laboriously) and I would read one. We tried to choose books he was interested in-I learned a lot about baseball! One of my favorite moments came when we were reading the kids' edition of Marley and Me and we both ended up crying at the end. When we went to see the movie, he grabbed my hand and said, 'Mom, the book was better!' It was one of my proudest mom moments."-Colleen Dunlavy, 43, Homewood , IL
Read more: Reading to Kids - Why Books Still Matter - Redbook
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.