More Than Words: Why Reading Matters for Kids

by Devon A. Corneal

Photo credit: Isabel Pavia, Moment Open/Getty Images

We all know that reading matters, right? But just how much it matters and how it can impact our kids may be surprising.

It turns out that children receive a host of educational, cognitive, neurological, psychological, and emotional benefits from reading, benefits that extend throughout their lives.

Reading isn’t just about literacy; it’s far more than that. Reading changes the way our brains work, how we relate to and communicate with other people, and how we understand the world.

Here are just a few ways that reading matters:

1. Reading improves parent-child relationships. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to start reading to their children in infancy not only to promote literacy, but also to improve their relationships with their kids. Reading together helps parents and kids connect and build strong bonds.

2. Reading improves concentration. Children learn concentration and discipline while reading or being read to. A squirming toddler eventually gains an ability to focus on longer and more complex stories. Reading is a fun way to help little kids sit still and listen, and I don’t know a parent alive who wouldn’t want that.

3. Reading builds neural pathways in the brain. Reading is exercise for your brain. It’s not just that your brain processes words and meaning while looking at text, reading actually changes your brain’s structure. If you need convincing, check out the six-part series, “Why Reading Matters,” from the BBC. You’ll never think about reading the same way again.

4. Reading teaches children about language. Reading teaches kids the building blocks of language, including cadence, vocabulary, structure, and word definitions. Children’s ability to communicate grows as their reading exposure increases.

5. Reading can make you smarter. I can’t guarantee that your child will turn into an Einstein, but a study from 2013 suggests that reading to kids in an “interactive style” (asking open-ended questions and engaging the child in the story) can boost their IQ by up to six points.

6. Reading can make kids more empathetic. Going even further, reading complex fiction can increase empathy in both kids and adults. Because navigating social relationships is nearly impossible without the ability to recognize and understand other people’s emotions, this is no small thing. The good news for all us Muggles is that even reading Harry Potter can trigger this effect. Turns out, Hogwarts teaches more than just magic.

7. Reading encourages creativity. Reading sparks the imagination, opening up a child’s mind to new ideas and concepts. In the wake of concerns about a “creativity crisis” in children, it’s reassuring to know that reading fosters ingenuity and inventiveness.

So the next time you’re tempted to skip reading to your kids or let them wiggle out of finishing a book for school, don’t. Make them stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.