Read to your kids. It may be the #1 most important parenting tool.
I recently read a great article by Ruth Bader Ginsberg about raising trail-blazing daughters. You may have seen this post summarizing Ginsberg’s article floating around Facebook. Here is her original article as well.
Ginsberg mentions “fostering a love of reading” in girls before anything else. While I’ve always loved reading and believed that it was so important to read to children, I’ve never thought about it as the #1 most important thing. However, who am I to argue with the “Notorious RBG”? And if you think about it, reading fosters so many “twenty-first century” skills, AND good-old-fashioned-often-left-behind skills, that are vital in today’s world.
Books lead to empathy
A big skill on my list of important ones for children (both girls and boys!) is empathy. I don’t just mean being able to express sorrow when someone stubs their toe. I mean being able to see the world from someone else’s point of view. I want my children to know about other cultures and to experience things far beyond their own tiny, privileged world. I feel like books do that in a way that almost nothing else can.
I don’t let my older daughter watch the movie first if the book is fabulous. I really feel like I would be ruining a future great experience for her. It’s not even just that the book is ALWAYS better (It is!), it’s that in the movie you rarely get to experience the first-person thoughts and feelings of the character that leads to real empathy.
Books are a break from the 70 mile an hour pace of life
I was recently telling my kids that back when I was little, I spent hours and hours reading. I was hoping to inspire them to read more, but my youngest just asked me why my parents didn’t just buy me an iPad. I died a little inside.
Reading is an escape, but it is also a chance to slow down and reflect, and I don’t feel like my kids get near enough time for that. I doubt they are thinking or reflecting while playing Minecraft. There mere act of sitting quietly with a book leads to deep thoughts and reflection. Deep thought and reflection lead to creativity.
Reading to kids makes me a better parent
All the parenting books say that you should read to your kids for 30 minutes every day. I’m not going to lie, it is probably a rare day when we read for that long, but my husband and I have read to our children every night since they were less than a year. It is part of our bedtime routine. In fact, at times we have considered taking away the bedtime story due to bad behavior, but I feel that it is just too important to use as a punishment.
I feel like reading has created a special bond, especially with our older daughter, as I share books that I love and watch her love of reading grow. I also feel that sometimes our reading tradition is my only salvation after a day of less-than-stellar parenting. There are days when I feel like I did nothing right: I yelled at someone for wasting all the shampoo, I didn’t listen to them at dinner because I was thinking about other stuff. But at bedtime we snuggle into bed and read. It makes me feel like I did at least one thing right each day.
Reading to kids builds a life-long habit
One of the things that made me the most sad as a high school teacher was to hear kids say “I hate reading.” For all the reasons I just mentioned and so many others, from being a better, more well-educated person to having something to do on an airplane, I feel that reading is a vital part of a happy life.
There are so, so many distractions in a child’s life today. My own kids are over-scheduled and over-stimulated (or under-stimulated, depending on what you think electronics do to their brains.) I’m not sure that even kids who like to read will voluntarily chose a book over electronics, but I want to make that choice for them every single day in the hopes that they will fall in love now and enjoy a lifetime of learning and joy.