When Should You Stop Reading to Your Kids? Never, and Here’s Why

In homes all over the world, and maybe in yours, too, a nightly ritual takes place. Parents read stories to their kids before putting them to bed. But something happens as our kids get a little older and start reading on their own.

We stop reading to them.

Only 17% of parents still read to their children after age 9.

Is it because our kids don’t need or want us to read to them anymore?

Not according to a study by Scholastic. It found that 87% of children age 6 through 11 said they liked being read to and wished their parents would continue reading to them.

That’s great news for parents and great for kids, too. Time spent reading together strengthens our bonds. But that’s not all.

There are amazing benefits for your child when you keep reading to him even after he learns to read.

After reading this, you’ll want to jump right back into this routine if you’ve started to let it slide. Here are the gains you can realize by spending about 15 minutes daily reading to your kids:

Develop Empathy

We all want our children to be empathetic — to grow up knowing how to be a good friend, to show compassion, and to bring kindness into the world.

Can reading to your child do that? Yes, it can! Or at least it can help.

Studies show that reading fiction improves readers’ ability to understand and empathize with others. This is because fiction focuses on the psychology of characters and their relationships.

When reading fiction, children are able to see into the minds of the characters, and they understand that other people can have thoughts and emotions different from theirs.

The talks you have with your child surrounding the story helps your child connect the book’s perspective to his own life.

Goodreads has this list of books about characters with unique perspectives and with whom your child can deeply empathize. One of my favorites is Wonder, now made into a movie. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to read the book then see the movie together? Double bonding!

Deal with Difficult Issues

Sometimes, talking to our kids can be difficult. We feel that we are being preachy (which we probably are). In the “Tween” years, children want and need our guidance but don’t always want to ask for it.

Reading aloud can act as a bridge to conversations with your child about difficult issues. Name any sticky subject — fitting in, staying true to self, peer pressure, drinking, divorce, bullying, death. There are books for any of those topics and more.

Talking about the problems a character in a book is having can make discussions more objective and easier for kids.

After reading a section of a book, asking questions such as, “Do you think [character] was being sincere?” or “What would have been a better choice for [character]?” can start a productive conversation.

When you talk about a book or character together, it’s not lecturing. It’s having a conversation.

Create Strong Family Relationships

Routines and rituals are the heart and soul of family life. They are truly the moments that trigger our memories.

Many rituals surround holidays and food (especially if you grew up in an Italian family like I did), but storytime can also elicit the same strong feelings of family and belonging.

A review of 50 years of research found that family rituals and routines are associated with children’s and adolescents’ sense of identity, overall health, and academic achievement.

Children in families with predictable routines are more confident, have fewer infections, and do better in school.

Routines and rituals are powerful because they create “emotional imprints” in our brains. It’s those imprints that act as insulation against the stresses of life that our kids experience.

Improve Vocabulary and Background Knowledge

There are numerous studies that confirm the link between vocabulary knowledge and academic success.

You might be surprised to know that vocabulary is the best single indicator of intellectual ability and an accurate predictor of success in school.

What’s the best way to increase your child’s vocabulary?

You already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Of course, it’s reading!

85% of the words that kids learn are learned indirectly. That means they are learned by hearing, reading, and interacting with new words, not directly taught.

The language our kids see and hear on social media, in daily conversations, on television, and in movies doesn’t do much to improve their vocabulary.

Books, on the other hand, use language that is rich, with complicated sentences and sophisticated vocabulary.

Your child is able to listen to and understand many more words than he can actually read on his own. As a matter of fact, children’s reading vocabulary doesn’t catch up to their listening vocabulary until about Age 13.

So by reading aloud to your older child, you can choose books written at a reading level one or two years above his current reading level (that is still within his interest and maturity level).

W. B. Elley is a professor and educational researcher from New Zealand. He spent years studying how children learn new words. He concluded, “Much vocabulary acquisition occurs during the enjoyable experience of listening to suitable stories read aloud … and that … explanations add substantially to the level of acquisition.”

Increase Attention Span

We live in the age of distraction.

We are bombarded with digital information in an unending stream of emails, social media, blogs, reports, news, youtube videos, and marketing ads.

The average attention span has decreased over 50% from a decade ago from twelve minutes to less than five minutes!

Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University, wrote Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. She explains that brain circuits are honed by reading books and thinking about their contents. ‘It takes time to think deeply about information, and we are becoming accustomed to moving on to the next distraction.’

She worries that these circuits won’t be properly formed in children if they don’t have the opportunity to spend time thinking and interacting with text.

Magic Solution: Read aloud to your child, and have discussions about the stories.

When you read aloud to your child, her attention is sustained as she follows complicated plots, visualizes characters, and thinks deeply about the messages and connections in the story.

You can gradually increase the length of read-aloud time as your child’s attention span improves.

Promote Reading as Pleasure

A study by Scholastic revealed that only 51% of children read for fun, down from 60% in 2010. The sharpest decline in reading for pleasure was for children over eight years old.

Hmmm… is that about the age that a lot of parents stop reading to their kids?

The Scholastic report found that a six to eleven-year-old child is more likely to be a frequent reader if he is currently read aloud to at home.

Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve read to your child, and you aren’t familiar with books for older kids. Need some help finding the perfect book?

Goodreads.com is a great site. You’ll find synopses of books as well as reviews by the young people reading them. You can easily find books to match your child’s interests and favorite genres.

There is an ocean of books just waiting for you and your older child to discover — books that can make you laugh, can make you cry, can call you to action, and can STIR YOUR SOUL!

Not convinced yet? Consider this statement by Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts:

“Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual’s academic and economic success — facts that are not especially surprising — but it also seems to awaken a person’s social and civic sense. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed.”

So we can enrich our children’s lives that much just by spending quality time reading together?

Yes! Now get thee to the library!