What Makes Reading with Kids Beneficial?
Mirrors and windows
“Through children’s literature, a child has the opportunity to explore beyond the story and discover unique experiences that are different from their own. Similarly, when children read literature with different genres, storylines, or themes, they can become engrossed in each book differently, thus having multiple experiences.”Glass, L. Reading chess rumble: Engaging disengaged readers through culturally relevant literature discussions. (2019). Journal of Children’s Literature, 45(2), 56-68.
As you read a wide variety of books with your child, they will have the opportunity to experience mirrors, where they see themselves reflected in characters and situations. This can help them to feel validated in their feelings, think more positively about themselves, and show them examples they will trust and understand of how to deal with difficult situations. Children’s brains are not the same as adult’s. They are not able to think about abstract concepts the same way that adults and even adolescents can, so they need concrete examples of principles and methods for handling situations in order to be able to make sense of them and apply them in their lives. And when you read good books together, you will be able to refer back to them to help your child really internalize the principles in concrete, understandable ways.
Additionally, the books you read with your child will serve as windows for them to experience an entirely different type of world or way of thinking that can be incredibly beneficial for developing imagination and aspects of empathy. (Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix–xi. )
“The road to a meaningful life starts with empathy, and it can be taught.”Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, parenting researcher
Learning empathy, or feeling emotions that are more appropriate for another person’s situation than your own, is an essential part of childhood. And the number one way to achieve that is by reading!
As you read books about a variety of characters, you will be helping your child become a compassionate person in a diverse global society. People (including children) are more likely to help others that they see as similar to them, so as you read books with a diverse range of characters, you can have conversations with your child to help them take the perspectives of those characters and see how they are similar.
Ask “what if” questions to help them try to understand the emotions and experiences of those characters, and they will come away better prepared to put that into practice in their lives.
The quality of a child’s relationships is one of the most important things they can have for learning and developing in every aspect of their lives!
Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are snuggling with my mom in our old green recliner in the living room together and reading books together. You can work to make reading times special bonding opportunities with your child. Establishing a routine around reading time can be particularly helpful–if you read at the same time each day/week, have the same place you read, or any other distinction that makes it a unique and prioritized interaction, will make reading time become an important part of their lives.
While you’re reading together, don’t multitask with technology–dedicate all of your attention to your kid(s) and the book you’re reading so that your child feels special and important, and you don’t miss any teaching or learning opportunities. Kids feel closer to the people they’re with when they’re doing something called joint attention–when you’re both looking at the same thing at the same time and know that you’re both simultaneously looking at it. Reading together can be the perfect way to engage in joint attention with your kids and foster those feelings of emotional closeness!
As you talk with them about what you read together, you will also get insight into how they are thinking about and seeing the world. This will help you understand how to better communicate with them, show love in ways that are meaningful to them, and what they need emotionally, physically, or otherwise.