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Just 20 minutes a day: why reading sets your kids up for life

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

Young children benefit in so many ways from being read to every day. I'll share how reading helps kids succeed not only in school, but in life too.

When I'm too tired to read to my three-year-old son at bedtime, I occasionally recall a bit by English comedian Michael McIntyre–Battles with Kids. When describing his kids' bedtime routine, Michael asks the audience if they, too, scan the bookshelf for the shortest book they own. He continues as if talking to his kids, "I thought we could read this leaflet that came through the door." It's funny, and I love it because I can relate. And if you're a parent, I bet you do too.

Don't get me wrong. I love reading to my son at bedtime. We sit in a big cozy chair and enjoy "books and milk" together. Those moments are the memories I'll cherish forever. Yet, there were nights when I was exhausted, and I hoped my son would choose a short book to read. I always felt a little guilty for cutting storytime short when tired. But, as a parent, you might know my eternal struggle: doing what's good for your child versus feeling tired, stressed, or busy. A month ago, something changed. I came across an obscure statistic that now has me energised at storytime...and it's this:

Children who read for just 20 minutes per day see 1.8 million words each year and score in the 90th percentile in standardised tests.

After learning this, my attitude to storytime changed. I was floored by how such a simple and brief activity would make a HUGE impact on my son's life.

So, I promised myself: to read to my son for 20 minutes daily. Storytime is now a joy because I know I'm helping my son get a leg up on his schooling.

Tips for reading with toddlers

The statistic I've quoted above is geared towards older kids, but I've realised that part of my role as a parent is to make reading fun so that my son is more likely to devour books when he becomes an independent reader. Reading also has many other long-term benefits for children, such as:

  • increased confidence

  • strong love of learning

  • longer attention span

  • increased empathy and compassion, and

  • a strong relationship with parents (storytime rituals deepen familial bonds).

So, here are six tips I've learnt from reading to my toddler that I believe will help all kids develop a lifelong love of reading:

  1. Set aside time for reading before bedtime and stick to 20 minutes or more!

  2. Have a special area or chair for reading and make it cozy.

  3. Make a deal with your child that you will each choose a book (or two) at storytime.

  4. Answer questions and acknowledge your child's observations.

  5. If your child finds some text or pictures amusing or exciting, allow time to savour or enjoy them again.

  6. Be expressive and engaged when reading–use a different voice for each character and vary your tone and speed to match the narrative. For example, read excitedly during fun moments or whisper for special moments.

I'd love to hear about your tips for making reading more enjoyable!

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