Arjun Nepal, MD, a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician in South Sacramento and Elk Grove, answers questions about the importance of reading aloud to young children.
What are the benefits of reading to children as young as newborns?
The youngest of babies love to be held close and to hear the voice of a loved one as they read a book aloud. These experiences create strong bonds and impart a sense of well-being and safety. They also promote healthy brain growth, including positive emotional and social development.
What can parents and care givers do to help their children become successful readers?
There are a number of steps parents can take. Talk to your infants and young children frequently in short, simple sentences. You can name things, talk about familiar activities and objects, sing songs, tell stories, and recite rhymes or poems.
How involved should parents be when reading a story?
Very involved. Ask your child what they think will happen next, ask what the pictures are, and ask them to retell the story. Silly sounds, especially animal sounds, are fun to make while reading books. Read aloud to your children for 20 to 30 minutes daily, beginning when they are infants. If you don’t have time, try reading for just a few minutes.
What can parents do to inspire a love for reading?
Limit TV watching, create a reading corner in your house, and take your child to the library often. Demonstrate your own love of reading and let them observe you read. Keep an eye on their vision and hearing, making sure you have them tested when appropriate.
What about a child who is struggling with reading?
Read together when your child is relaxed and paying attention. Turn off all electronics. Try books with buttons that make sounds when pushed — children with autism especially enjoy these. Reading in a quiet space and breaking up reading with play are useful for kids who have difficulty paying attention. Multiple readings of the same book help to create interest in reading in many kids.
Also, give them time to process the events in the story independently and without pressure. Struggling readers can be afraid of reading out loud, so allow time to practice with a voice recorder or with a parent. Include a range of reading materials like comics, magazines, fiction novels, and non-fiction books, so children can pick books that interest them the most.
What do Kaiser Permanente pediatricians do to encourage children to read?
We participate in the Reach Out and Read program. We provide age-appropriate books during well check visits for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. Parents are happy to see their kids showing interest in books and reading. It is very rewarding to see parents and kids interacting with each other, bonding and enhancing the child’s interest in reading and learning.
Do you have any favorite children’s books?
My kids and I liked reading Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. They interact with the story and learn colors. It teaches kids an important moral: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song. Other books that my kids and I enjoyed are Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Cat in the Hat, and other books by Dr. Seuss, as well as the Elephant and Piggie books.