Feature Archive

Getting Your Child Hooked on Books

Hooked on Books

WebMD Feature

Want to raise a good reader? Then brush up on your storytelling skills. Storytelling and reading with children from an early age have a tremendous influence on your child's development, both mentally and emotionally. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, only 50 percent of toddlers and infants are routinely read to by their parents. In fact, the research showing reading is beneficial is so strong that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the AAP to encourage parents to read to their children every day, beginning at 6 months. Here are some important effects that an early introduction to books and stories have on a child.

Quality Is More Important Than Quantity

The way you read to your child is perhaps the most important factor of all -- even more important than how much you read. It's vital to encourage your child's participation. Your child will be less likely to receive the benefits of reading if he is simply a passive listener. In a study reported in the journal Developmental Psychology in 1988, researchers demonstrated the benefit of "active" reading in a program of storybook reading with 2-year-old children. Children whose parents engaged them in a dialogue about the story fared substantially better in several measures of language development. Prompting and encouraging your child's participation, elaborating on what your child says about the story, and praising your child for her efforts are key to successful language development. In fact, reading without engaging the child may result in your child losing interest.

Stories also help your child figure out the world. Storytelling and reading boost a child's imagination and help him feel in control of and learn about his environment. Take the following scenario:

Three-year-old Alex is playing in the bathtub when he notices a spider on the ceiling. Frightened, he turns to his father and says, "Daddy, there's a spider. I'm scared." His father responds by saying, "Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Alex who was taking a bath. One night a spider came to visit." "Does the spider bite?" asks Alex, still apprehensive, but also engrossed. "No, he's a very nice spider." "What's he going to do?" asks Alex. "He just wants to say hello. Then he returned to his own family to give his kids a bath, too. The End." Alex continues playing in his bath, occasionally having an imaginary conversation with the creature he was needlessly frightened of only moments earlier.

Reading together also offers one-on-one time. Storytelling and reading with a youngster can also help strengthen the bond between parent and child. These shared activities help kids associate stories and books with parental affection -- an association that pays great dividends in developing a lasting love for learning and reading.