The Love of Story
My four-year-old nephew and I have two things in common: we love volcanoes and books. Every time he comes over to our house, the first thing he does is dash into my library and pull out the biggest volcanology textbook he can carry. Wobbling under its weight, he will drop down on the couch and insist, “Read this one! Start from the beginning.”
As we snuggle down, I know that he isn’t interested in the tongue-twisting terminology or physics equations. He is searching for the story. How was each volcano born? What makes them erupt? It’s the story that my nephew craves.
Looking down at his brown eyes sparkling with wonder, I marvel at how God has created humans with an innate love of stories. Stories are not only there for our enjoyment, but are actually essential for childhood development. How good is God that He wired us with a passion for something that would help us grow! We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
To teach His followers, Jesus read from the Torah (the Old Testament scriptures) and told a multitude of parables. He understood that we were created to communicate and learn through story. Jesus’ parables help us to understand God’s nature and kingdom. Through those stories, we can learn and grow in our walk with Christ. Following Jesus’ example of teaching His children through stories, we should help our own children to learn and grow through stories.
Reading to our children is one of the best ways to share stories with them. Here are five positive effects that reading has on child development:
Reading Encourages Play
Entertainment is a large part of our daily lives. Adults and children alike tend to immerse themselves in television and movies, books of every genre, graphic novels, and radio theatre. Diving into another world or life for a short period of time and exploring the possibilities gives people, young or old, the opportunity to rest and recharge. Reading gives our children the chance to explore outside of the daily routine, learn new things, and dream big. It gives them the opportunity to play.
Finding stories that delight our children will encourage them to read. Choosing stories that they will find fascinating will draw them back to the bookshelves time and again. Reading to our children provides an excellent opportunity to laugh and rest together.
Fun Tip: After reading a story to your child, act it out. From something as elaborate as staging a play for your family to a quick skit in the living room, acting out stories are a fun way to encourage play with reading.
Reading Develops the Brain
Eighty percent of a child’s brain development happens in the first three years of his or her life. Children are like a sponge: they soak up information during this time. Reading is critical during these early years, as your children will quickly begin to learn new words and new concepts that will help carry them through the rest of their lives, and even set them ahead of the learning curve.
Children who are read to are exposed to words that are not used in everyday conversation. For example, words such as “giraffe” and “savannah” are words that might only be discovered in a book. If a parent reads only one book of 200 words to their child every day, that child will have learned more than 400,000 new words by the time they reach kindergarten. The gap between kindergartners who have and have not been read to each day can easily reach upward of 1.4 million words, depending on the length and amount of books read. The advantage of the child who has been read to can be staggering. Their reading difficulty level and speed, as well as, their writing skills will be more advanced. Reading also improves a child’s concentration, allowing for better focus in class. Reading early and often is important for a child’s academic success.
Fun Tip: Create a scavenger hunt sheet that lists various topics and genres for your child to explore. This will help ensure that a wide variety of topics is read and learned.
Reading Enhances Visualisation & Imagination
When parents read to their children, it further develops parts of the brain associated with visual imagery, comprehension, and word meaning. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that these areas of a child’s brain become active when someone reads to them. In children whose parents read to them often, these areas of the brain are more active than other children their age who are not read to daily.
When reading sparks imagination, children begin to visualise things they have not yet experienced. They connect what they know in the world around them to the ideas presented in each story. Visualisation is essential to interpreting meaning or symbolism behind stories, and is important for effective communication.
One of the ways our children sate their curiosity about the world is through reading. Reading to your children will help spark their imagination. From ‘wild’ imaginations have come some of the greatest inventions and ideas in human history.
Fun Tip: Connect each story’s elements to the world your child knows. For example, statements such as “This character has brown eyes like yours” or “Her grandmother likes to sew and bake cookies just like your grandma does!” can help your child visualise and understand new concepts.
Reading Develops Character
Reading to your children teaches them about the world around them. Children observe through stories how he or she should respond to different people and situations. Children whose parents read to them develop emotional and social skills quickly, and learn to effectively employ them in daily lives. Character development also occurs more quickly when they are read to from a young age.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Reading stories, especially the Bible to our children, will teach them about the love of God and will strengthen their faith from a young age. Reading Bible stories will also teach them how to have empathy and how to love others.
Fun Tip: Pick a book or Bible story to read, and choose a Bible verse that ties in to the story for your child to memorise. For example, “The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks” could tie in with 1 Chronicles 16:34: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.”
Reading Creates Bonding
There are few things better than cuddling up with your child and a good book. Reading with your children demonstrates you are present and are going to be intentional about spending time with them. Being available to your child can grow into a healthy and trusting relationship with open communication.
Research has shown that bonding between a parent and child is absolutely critical for healthy childhood development. Children who do not spend time with their parents or who are unable to bond with them are at greater risk for mental health issues and suicide later in adolescence.
Furthermore, reading to your children creates the habit of spending quality time together. Children understand that if their mum or dad returns to something repeatedly, it must matter. When your child sees you returning to the Bible daily, for instance, they will know it is important! Reading to them as a habit will also help them to understand the value of stories.
Fun Tip: Be intentional in scheduling a time each day to drop everything and read to your child. Eliminate all the distractions that could take time away from reading and spending time together. Create a cozy “reading zone” where phones and other distractions are not allowed.
Reading and sharing stories with our children has many benefits and is absolutely essential to their development. God created us to crave stories, and use them for sharing information, communicating, learning and growing. What a special gift that we have been given to be able to spend time reading to our children and watch them grow though that process.
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