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Reading aloud to children: why fairy tales and the like are so important

Perhaps you can remember how your parents read aloud to you. Or how your grandparents opened up the world of fairy stories to you with their amazing tales of princesses and dragons. Reading together and being read to is not only something that you remember fondly later in life. It is also an important part of a child’s development.

But what are the advantages of reading aloud to children? And does it make a difference which children’s story is read aloud? Read on to find out how reading aloud can influence your child and what you should consider when selecting a story.

Why is reading aloud so important?

Reading aloud to a child strengthens many skills and supports their development enormously. Every little word gives your child the opportunity to discover and explore words and language. It develops or builds on cognitive skills, and social skills can also benefit when a child is read to regularly.

It doesn’t really matter whether a children’s story contains the odd difficult word or two, or whether the child fully understands what is being read to them. When parents read aloud to their children, just hearing the language encourages the child’s development.

Why is it so essential to read aloud to toddlers?

Did you know that looking at a book together counts as reading aloud? Even when, strictly speaking, there isn’t much to read, picture books are important for small children.

It’s not just about having fun and spending time together; books containing pictures are also excellent for activating a child’s learning centre. Many actually forget that reading together sparks conversation. Little listeners are critical; they make themselves heard, repeating words and asking questions.

Reading aloud not only involves making an amusing kid’s story accessible to children, it is also about communication and social interaction. The reader always enters into dialogue with the reader, even with toddlers: explaining objects, asking about colours or the number of certain things. This challenges the little ones beyond the task of listening, giving picture books particular significance in a child’s early development.

Children who are read to find things easier later on

The annual study conducted since 2007 by “Stiftung Lesen”, a German foundation for the promotion of reading, shows that parents can have a long-term, positive influence on the development of their children by reading to them aloud on a regular basis. One finding of the study is that children who are read to regularly find learning at school considerably easier. Learning how to read and write in particular comes more easily to children who have been read to often. Thanks to having been read stories, they bring with them a certain empathy for language.

Which skills does being read to develop?

First of all, wanting to read to children is always a good thing! In the fast-paced world in which we live, the telling of stories is often somewhat neglected. So, if you would like to read aloud to your child, it is certainly the right path to take!

When parents read aloud to their child, it uses many areas of the child’s brain. For example, it stimulates creativity, and enhances the imagination. Reading a story aloud requires a lot of effort from the child in order to pay attention. And this, in turn, has a positive effect on its ability to concentrate. Reading aloud allows the learning of new words through play, expanding the child’s vocabulary.

If you love diving into a good book, you will probably know what it is to become involved in the lives of the characters. And the same can be said of children! They transport themselves into the situation and characters being described, which teaches them empathy. Having empathy for others is an important skill to be acquired on the journey to adulthood, and one easily practised when parents read aloud to their children.

And of course, the biggest advantage for parents who read aloud to their children is the emotional closeness to their own child. Spending time together is of great benefit to the parent-child relationship, encouraging trust in one another.

When should I read to my child?

With respect to age, on average, parents start reading children’s stories aloud when the child is two years old or more. But even at a younger age, reading aloud (and looking at picture books) has been determined to have a developmental effect. It is never too soon to start reading together. But be careful when selecting the reading material: children’s books are not assigned age ratings without reason.

And with respect to choosing a time to read: reading together is always a good idea! If you want to read aloud to your children, you will slow down their daily routine. They listen and relax. Before their afternoon nap and before bedtime in the evening – these are perfect moments for producing a children’s book and reading. Bedtime stories in particular can become a lovely night-time ritual, involving reading aloud and cuddles.

What are bedtime stories?

Being read a short story at bedtime is an ideal way of sending children of gently into the land of nod. A good bedtime story is a lovely end to a child’s day. The regular reading of short children’s stories of an evening quickly becomes an inherent part of the day. And that’s as it should be! Rituals are important, and being read to from a book by Mum or Dad is a sign of love and parental devotion to your child. Being lulled into a dream world with a wonderful feeling of security is sure to ward off any nightmare.

What should I consider when choosing a bedtime story?

Amusing children’s stories, which have the child curled up laughing, are not recommended for bedtime stories. The perfect story for sending a child off to sleep should not be overly stimulating or exciting. Children should relax when being read to, and gradually drift off to sleep. This is why short children’s stories are best. Perhaps one of the many lovely animal stories? Or an age-appropriate, dreamy fairytale?

What stories should I read to my child?

Stories that are read aloud fire a child’s imagination! Whatever the adventure you want to read aloud to your child, you should always take the recommended age range into consideration. This can usually be found on the front or back cover of a children’s book.
This recommendation takes into account the sentence structure used in the book, for example. Or how difficult the words it contains are for children. The story itself can also play a role: how long will the reader and the child spend reading it? And is it easy to understand?

Do you feel like you’ve already read this book aloud a million times before? Does it really have to be this story again? Although the bookshelf is full of new stories that are waiting to be read? Even if you smile wryly at this, there is a reason!

Children identify with the story they are being read, and sometimes find something in the plot that particularly captivates them. Perhaps a certain part is especially amusing and it makes your child laugh? Or something in the story is a timely way of helping them process something they have experienced.

Are fairy tales suitable for small children?

Fairy tales are an exciting option for reading aloud. Every story tells of a new adventure about brave knights and the triumph of good over evil. However, the path taken by a fairy story can be long and dark. Not every original fairy story is as cheerful as you would like to think. If you do select a fairy story, take a careful look at the actual version in your hands.
These days, many classic children’s stories have been produced with colourful images and fewer scary witches and creatures. This can be a good choice for small children in particular. Or did you know that in the original version, the Little Mermaid turns into sea foam and doesn’t experience a happy ending?

In conclusion: reach for a book once in a while

So as you can see, reading a book together with your child is a valuable way of spending your time. Reading aloud on a regular basis not only brings you closer together, it also has a positive effect on the development of your child. When you consider how important it is and the advantages it brings, make some time in your busy schedule to read together. Opening up a book and reading from it regularly, e.g. as an evening ritual, can help you to switch off after a stressful day as much as it can your child.

And who knows, perhaps you will (re)discover your love for books by reading aloud?

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