Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 1: Why Read at Bedtime?

For many families, the words “bedtime” and “stories” go hand in hand. In the “Bedtime Routines” survey that we conducted, less than 10% of participants selected “we do not read books together at bedtime;” indicating that over 90% of the families who participated do read books together at bedtime (and the others may have parents that tell stories but do not read them from a book, but our survey did not ask about that!). What is it about bedtime and stories that goes together? Is it important to include stories at bedtime? If so, at what age should we begin to read to our children? When should we stop?

First, let’s take a look at why bedtime and stories go together so well. If we think about it a little, we realize that whether we are 2 or 100, each story that we hear offers us a mental break from real life. This is what draws us to stories, whether they are told, read, or acted out in a play or a movie. Besides the mental release, stories also offer us an opportunity to observe the characters’ experiences and learn from their mistakes (without having to make the mistakes and learn the lessons for ourselves). The rest that comes from stepping back from the intensity of life is a great way to begin to relax and prepare for sleep. That is a likely reason that bedtime and stories (read aloud or told) are paired as a part of so many families’ bedtime routines.
So, is it important that we include stories with the bedtime routine? Studies have shown that besides the beneficial mental break mentioned above, reading bedtime stories helps children to learn. The vocabulary in the stories shapes and enlarges their own vocabulary. The patterns they find in hearing the same book read over and over again help to organize the way that children think and allows them to begin to make predictions about what should or will happen next. The positive feelings associated with this cozy daily routine offer comfort and stability to children (and, if we are honest, to us as adults, as well). So, while it is possible to have a bedtime routine without including stories, the benefits are so great that perhaps it is important to include them in the bedtime routine.

What age is the appropriate age for bedtime stories? We have read that as early as in utero, children benefit from hearing their parents’ voices. We also read that teens continue to learn from hearing stories read to them. That’s a wide range of ages! But, at least in our experience, beginning to read aloud to our children as early as possible and continuing to read to them for as many years as possible affords them continuous learning opportunities. Also creating family memories together through stories is just a lot of fun. The mutual, “Remember that time we read that book (terrible or awesome as it was)?,” can only happen if we have actually taken time to read aloud together, regardless of the age of our child(ren).

We found countless articles celebrating the value of reading aloud to children at bedtime. We will share a few of them below. We hope that you will find them helpful, and begin (or continue!) to read together at bedtime.

Note: This is the first in a subseries of the bedtime routine articles. This subseries will look specifically at reading books to our children at bedtime. The next two blog posts will feature suggestions of books to read to younger readers and to older readers, respectively. In the weeks beyond that, we will focus on other kinds of bedtime stories, including stories from the lives of the saints and Bible stories. Thanks again to each member of our community who filled out the survey over the summer: we will be sharing your suggestions and adding a few of our own.

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Improved speech, language, spelling, and imagination: all of these are benefits of reading aloud to our children! Read more in this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-hartwell/reading-to-children_b_8488578.html

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“Great ideas come from people who are able to bring their whole selves – emotional as well as rational, memory as well as logic – to bear on problems. Bedtime stories give reading an emotional depth. Why would you ever stop? This is something people have done since the days of sitting around campfires napping flints. To stop doing it now is to break the great chain of our being.” ~ Cottrell Boyce, as quoted in this article on how important bedtime stories are to children’s literacy: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/sep/26/bedtime-story-is-key-to-literacy-says-childrens-writer-cottrell-boyce

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Find an article about the benefits of (as well as tips for) reading books to babies here: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/reading-babies.html

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This blog post offers 6 outstanding reasons for reading to children. It also utilizes the word “hogwash” in reference to children’s attention spans being short. Read the post for yourself to find out why: http://blog.housefairy.org/6-benefits-of-reading-bedtime-stories

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“…Reading picture books with young children may mean that they hear more words, while at the same time, their brains practice creating the images associated with those words — and with the more complex sentences and rhymes that make up even simple stories.” from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/bedtime-stories-for-young-brains/?_r=0
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It is not just the “littles” that benefit from bedtime stories. Big kids benefit from being read to (at bedtime or otherwise) as well! This article offers an elaborated list of ways that reading to your “bigger” kids will help them: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/parent-child/importance-reading-bedtime-stories-to-big-kids

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For those of us with teens: keep reading!!!

If you have not yet begun reading to your children at bedtime, it is never too late to help them in this way! Recent research has found that reading to children boosts their cognitive levels regardless of when it is begun! “…Researchers have found that electronic images of the brains of children considered poor readers show little activity in the verbal-processing areas. But after the researchers spent one to two hours a day for eight weeks reading to the poor readers and performing other literacy exercises with them, their brain activity had changed to look like that of the good readers.” Read this and more in this excellent article full of information about why to read to children at all ages – even into their teens:
http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/books/the-brainy-benefits-of-bedtime-stories/

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