Do you want to know the secret to guarantee that your child will be a future success (and no, it is not winning big with online poker)? It is probably one of the most inexpensive investments you can make in your child’s future. It is the bedtime story.
The Bedtime Story
The daily bedtime story has more of an impact on the future success of your child than spending large amounts of money on private school education.
You may be thinking, “I have seen better bluffing in an online poker game”, but it is true. The daily reading of bedtime stories has a greater impact on the future success of a child than even the most expensive private schools.
When a child is read to daily they are exposed to a wider vocabulary than they would be exposed to if their vocabulary was limited to the general conversation with parents or just the vocabulary encountered in TV shows.
Young children whose parents read to them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to. Some refer to this as the “million-word gap” and many believe that this is the key to why children from homes at lower income levels have a disadvantage compared to kids in higher income homes, even starting in kindergarten.
These are the statistics. Board books contain an average of 140 words. Picture books contain an average of 228 words. If you read 1 book a day from birth until age 5, a child would be exposed to 296,660 words.
- Children read to 1 time per month: 4,662 words
- Children read to 1-2 times per week: 63,570 words
- Children read to 3-4 times per week: 169,520 words
- Children read to daily: 296,660 words
- Children read to 5 books a day: 1,483,300 words
Thus, the “1 million word gap”!
About 25% of the children entering kindergarten were never read to regularly. Another 25% were seldom read to (once or twice weekly). The other 50% were read to at least one book per day.
“Kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school … They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.”
You may be thinking, “But I talk to my child. Doesn’t that count?”
The reality is that the vocabulary that we use in general conversation is about ¼ of the size of the vocabulary we encounter in general reading.
Take a look at the New General Service List, a word list that was designed to be the most important service words for learners of English. There are 2800 words in the New General Service List. A sub-set of the NGSL list is the NGSL-spoken list, a list of 700 words. In other words, the common spoken vocabulary is around ¼ the size of the common reading vocabulary.
On any given day, the end of the day conversation between a child and a parent would probably consist of asking the child if anything interesting happened at school. The child will then go into a long and detailed story of the argument between Jane and Sally and how mysteriously jello ended up all over the floor. However great the story is, the vocabulary is limited.
On the other hand, if you read a book about the Antarctic and Penguins, the conversation is going to include a completely different set of vocabulary words. Then the conversation will go on a tangent by discussing the child’s favorite animals and why penguins don’t live in the African desert.
And it is not just the physical act of reading
Ask any child what their favorite part of bedtime storytime is, and you will probably hear the answer “cuddling with mommy and daddy.” Just as much as kids need the words that the bedtime story can give them, they also need the love that is shared between a parent and a child during storytime.
The 1944 experiment that was never repeated
In 1944, an experiment was conducted on 40 newborn infants to determine whether individuals could thrive alone on basic physiological needs without affection. Twenty newborn infants were housed in a special facility where they had caregivers who would go in to feed them, bathe them, and change their diapers, but they would do nothing else. The caregivers had been instructed not to look at or touch the babies more than what was necessary. All of the babies physical needs were attended to, but none of their emotional needs were attended to.
Although the babies were physically healthy and raised in a clean sterile environment, after 4 months about half of the babies had died! The babies had just given up. They stopped verbalizing and they stopped trying to engage with their caregivers. The baby stopped moving, stopped crying, and they even stopped changing their expressions. Death followed soon after.
This was an extereme experiment, but it shows the importance of those emotional bonds in a child’s development. That is the “other part” that the bedtime story provides.
But what if I don’t speak English or the native langauge of the country I am in?
It does not matter what language the reading is done in. It can be the parent’s native language or the native language of the country you reside in. It is the act of children being read to and everything else that goes into it that is important.
But if you are not fluent in English, and you still want your child to hear bedtime stories in English, than check out one of several bedtime story blogs that are available on the internet. Principal Dr. Belinda George, hosts an online story hour called ‘Tucked in Tuesday’. Even families who do not have students at Homer Elementary School in Texas, can still view the video blog on the school’s Facebook page.
There are also many human-read audiobooks available for free through the Gutenberg project online.
Children Too Old for Storytime? Do DEAR time!
DEAR time — Drop Everything And Read.
Take half an hour at the end of the day, relax, put your feet up, and turn your living room into DEAR time.
Children mimic what they see their parents doing. If a child sees a parent reading a good book for the pure enjoyment of reading, the child will gain the habit of reading a book for the pure enjoyment of reading.
You can read the same books or different books. It does not matter. Just make reading together a family activity.
Go to the public library and get inspired.
“The more you read, the more you will know. The more you know, the more places you’ll go,” says Dr. Seuss.