The Spice of Life

Novelty makes all the difference.

Variety is the spice of life. True for reading too. Think of all the kinds of things you enjoy reading. All those topics enrich your life for sure, and through conversation, they also influence the people around you.

What we read and talk about and the way we talk about the books we read have a big impact on our children and their development as well.

Research suggests that a variety of read-aloud experiences in a young child’s life provide multiple benefits in language and behavioral development.

According to Elisabeth Dursma of the Early Start Research Institute, “Research with 500 low-income fathers in the US suggests that when fathers read frequently to their children at a young age, there is an impact on their language development one year later and their literacy development two years later. We were quite surprised by this finding. When we looked more closely at what was happening during book reading interactions, we found that fathers used more abstract and complex language.

When sharing a book with their child, dads would often link events in the book to a child’s own experience. For example, when a ladder was discussed in the book, many fathers mentioned the last time they had used a ladder to climb up on the roof or use it for their work. Mothers focused more on the details in the book and often asked children to label or count objects or identify colors.”

According to research findings, dads elicited more imaginative discussions and are instrumental to their children’s language development because of the way they read to their kids.

Unfortunately a recent poll in Britain of 1,000 parents found that young parents are reading less to their children than older generations. Nineteen percent of dads under age 25 years said they enjoyed a bedtime read with their children, while 78% of older fathers said it was their favorite part of the day.

This study was limited to traditional two parent families. By accident or design a large number of families were left out. For me, the important take away from the research is that kids respond to multiple readers in their lives. I doubt that the sex of the parent is as important as the novelty of having different readers. Any loving adult or older sibling who provides a sense of security will positively impact a child’s interest in reading and discussing books because each of us brings our unique talents to the job.

During the summer, Children’s Reading Alliance volunteers share books and read stories to children in an effort to keep kids engaged in reading during their long school break. I am always impressed with the range of interests and abilities each volunteer brings. Different books resonate with each of us and even when we choose the same title, our presentations vary a great deal. The key is the enthusiasm that brings stories alive. Sincerity naturally stimulates all-important conversations.

Novelty and change of pace are what interests all of us. Every adult in a child’s life can expand their repertoire of reading skills to make connections, use silly words and voices, and ask probing questions. Go for it! And, when you get the chance, tell me what happens.