Bedtime reading! It’s one of those wonderful routines enjoyed by parents and children alike – a time to unwind, enjoy resting together while taking in the phenomenal world of stories. When practiced regularly, it’s an invaluable experience linked to success in school. Here are some tips for making the benefits of this lovely ritual even greater.
1. Go Beyond Known and Familiar Content
Books provide an enormously rich range of language to children. That’s one of the reasons why bedtime reading has been shown to be so beneficial. At the same time, the language is often more sophisticated than the language children hear in their daily lives. So it can be a bit intimidating. Do not let that lead you to limiting yourself to simple books that will seemingly pose no problem. Books are invaluable in expanding a child’s world. Because you are doing the reading, you can offer your child much higher level material than he or she can read independently. If the topic of a book interests your child and is within your child’s level of understanding, then consider including it in your bedtime library.
2. Take Time to Elaborate
Even when the topic is right, the books are naturally going to contain complex sentences and ideas that may not be part of your child’s current repertoire. As an example, consider the following sentence from The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully
On Saturday, when the line of mill girls passed through the paymaster’s office, the youngest was too small to reach the ledger to sign her name.
This book, which you might read to a 7 or 8 year old, allows a child to grasp and empathize with the world of the 1800’s when child labor was the norm. When ideas like these come up, take the time to elaborate and explain. There’s no need to offer a lecture. (In fact, , there’s every reason not to.)
Instead allow yourself and your child the luxury of an interesting conversation about objects (ledgers); events (signing for a paycheck) and customs (the paymaster’s office) from a by-gone age. And there is an added benefit. It lays the groundwork for the kind of thinking that is expected in social studies classes. So not only will your child gain a broader world view, he or she will have a leg up in the classroom.
3. Avoid Questions
Something fascinating–and unfortunate–happens when parents take on an activity related to school. They start to do what teachers do; namely, they start to ask questions like “What is X?” “Where is Y?” “Why do you think the boy did Z?” Somehow, although it is generally out of our awareness, teaching and questioning are like Siamese twins—where one is, so is the other.
All of us know, deep down, that questions are a kind of test and tests are anything but pleasant. They certainly are not something you want in your “special time.” Fortunately, if we are aware of what is going on, it is relatively easy to change. Simply eliminate the questions and instead be ready to offer whatever information is needed.
For example, if you suspect that your child does not know a term like paymaster, you can say something like: “I imagine you don’t know that word.”Then pause. If a child does know, he or she is likely to jump in and say “Oh yes I do” and then elaborate. Should that not happen, then you simply fill the void by casually explaining the term. It’s a win-win situation: the stress of questions is removed while at the same time, your child’s world of information expands.