Bed Storytime; why reading with kids is SO important

Read my 10 top reasons why bed storytime is SO valuable. Reading with kids has numerous developmental benefits; some might surprise you!

Introduction to Bed Storytime

Reading a book to my son Andy before bed was always my favourite part of the day – he looked forward to choosing the book he wanted us to read together (it helped that I had quite a collection from my years of teaching in early childhood settings), and I just loved watching him totally immersed in the words, the pictures and the story. It was beautiful bonding time for both of us and I knew that he was benefiting from these special moments in so many ways.

Here are my top ten reasons to make bed storytime a regular part of your daily routine;

1. Reading together encourages a LOVE of books and storytelling

Reading together, and sharing enthusiasm for storytime and different books encourages and communicates to your child that books, stories and storytime are to be valued. Children may often enjoy revisiting the same book over and over, and this is quite normal for young children as the repetition and anticipation of a familiar occurrence or ending brings security and comfort, as well as reinforces word meanings and allows them to practice verbal language patterns. A wonderful example of this can be seen in the book Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, a firm favourite amongst many pre-schoolers, and a classic.

If you don’t have a big collection at home and you don’t want to be spending money on new or second hand books, you can always borrow from your local library as this makes for an enjoyable outing with your little one, and they may enjoy choosing their bed time story together with you.

Reading a book to a child can be a wonderful experience, and I have always loved the magic of not just reading, but making a book come alive in front of an enthralled classroom of pre-schoolers. Changing your tone of voice in line with story plot, and making different character voices as well as changing facial expressions and asking relevant questions throughout the story, all help to make the story time not just the reading of a book but a full immersive experience. When a child feels more engaged and excited about the story reading experience, they will be much more likely to ask for “more” and get excited about future story times!

Bottom line here: Have fun with your child and enjoy the story experience along with them. Make that story come alive for them! This will have them wanting more and more.

bed storytime
Reading together encourages a love of reading, language and books. The more often this is done together, the more children will love books and will most likely want more and more!

2. Improves listening skills & comprehension

When children are interested in what they are listening to and engaged in the story experience, this will help to improve their listening skills and therefore their receptive language skills which is listening as well as comprehension. As an adult is reading the story, it helps to discuss what is happening in the story, in the pictures and any other relevant details or characters. For example, when reading a story about farm animals, rather than simply sticking to the text on the page, you might add some comments or some questions such as, “Ooh, look at all the animals on the farm, what animals can you see here? Do you know what sound the cow makes? What do you think might happen next? What kind of food do you think the horses are looking for?” There are numerous questions and comments you can make in between reading the story text. In fact on many occasions, I have just ad libbed and made up some of the story myself to add a bit more excitement.

Asking relevant questions and making comments in between the actual story will encourage your child to discuss what they see and what they are understanding. It will also help you to gauge how well the child is listening, whether they are thinking critically about the story events (for example, making statements such as “Why is the horsey going inside the house? He lives outside!”) and therefore how much they are understanding. The more effectively they listen and the more they understand, the bigger their improvement in development of overall language and pre-literacy skills, needed for independent reading later on. Reading Eggs have some helpful info on the development of listening skills which you can read here: 8 Listening activities for Kids – Reading Eggs.

Bottom line here: If children are interested and having fun, their listening skills and comprehension will naturally improve.

3. Helps children understand the link between written text and illustrations

As children reach the age of about 4, they will start to notice the text on the page, as well as the illustrations. Younger children will mostly engage with the pictures as well as the words they are hearing as someone reads the story to them but once they start learning their alphabet and some of the phonetic sounds of alphabet letters, they may start pointing out letters or whole words on the pages and identifying what has become familiar to them. They may point out letters that they know are also in their name, “There’s A for Amy, like me!”, for example. As children start to identify letters and perhaps simple words on the pages, they will start to realise that those words are there for a reason; to convey the actual story. This realisation may seem obvious to adults but it is an important milestone in literacy development to become aware of the fact that words and text have a purpose of conveying meaning. When children become aware of this, and make the important link between the written text and the illustrations on the pages, they will gain a better understanding of how we communicate through storytelling, and will most likely increase their interest in various books around them, and they will start to notice even more written text around them in their immediate environments.

Bottom line here: The more often children are read to, the more likely they will start to recognise and understand the link between text and illustrations, which in turn helps them develop their understanding of how stories communicate meaning to us.

4. Bed Storytime improves focus and concentration

bed storytime
Building attention span and focus is important for developing school readiness. Reading together is a fantastic way to develop this!

There is something intrinsically satisfying about starting a book, and then completing the reading of that book. As said above, when children are interested in something, they are more likely to listen, to focus and therefore improve their concentration. If a child is enthralled in a story, excited to hear what will happen next and are looking forward to finding out what will happen in the end, they will naturally focus their attention on the words being said, on the pictures they’re looking at, and on any interaction between the reader and themselves with relation to discussing the plot, the characters and making any predictions.

If your child is requesting a second, or third story and there is time and opportunity to do so, read to them again! The benefits are great, particularly in improving their concentration skills if they are INTERESTED in the stories being read.

Screen time (TV, tablet devices, gaming consoles) and your child’s involvement in long periods of screen activity is NOT an indicator of their ability to focus and concentrate effectively. Screen time should be limited to under 1 hour in total for children aged under 5, as recommended by NSW Munch and Move and so the best way to improve their focus and concentration is by reading books or completing tasks such as drawing, doing puzzles, scissor cutting or building with blocks.

Bottom line here: Reading books with your child will help to improve their focus and concentration IF they are interested. Improving their attention span is important for building School Readiness.

5. Encourages verbal language expression & builds vocabulary

There are many children who find it nearly impossible to keep quiet during an exciting story! This means that the more the child is interested and engaged in the story, the more likely they are to verbalise what they are seeing, what they are thinking about and what amuses them! This encourages them to use their verbal language skills to express themselves effectively and use the appropriate vocabulary. It could be vocabulary that is recently learned, simply through the words in the story, or it could be prompting them to try out different language through story events, characters or images.

This is a wonderful opportunity to explain to children what particular words mean, or better yet, use new words in the appropriate context, allowing the child to pick up the meaning naturally through association and understanding of related events.

Bottom line here: Encourage children to express themselves verbally throughout the story as they want to; this develops expressive language skills and improves their vocabulary.

6. Encourages and sparks their imagination

Where do I start on the importance of encouraging and inspiring children’s imagination?? When we encourage children to think imaginatively, we develop their creative thinking, their inventiveness, their problem solving skills, confidence in themselves, their language abilities and we help them to understand more about the world around them! That’s just a quick list! Think about the world’s biggest and best inventions – it started with someone having an idea, and using their imagination!

If children are not encouraged to use their imagination in early childhood, how can we ever expect them to think creatively or problem solve as older children, adolescents or adults? The easiest way to encourage their imagination is through the wide array of children’s picture books that are aimed at young children and widely available to buy new, second hand or to borrow at libraries. Here are some more tips on building a child’s imagination: First Five Years – Tips for building a child’s imagination.

Bottom line here: My bottom line here is to quote Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

bed storytime
“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein.

7. Develops emotional awareness

As children become engaged in stories where the characters may be discussing or working through particular emotions, it opens up a wonderful opportunity for children to not only gain an understanding of what emotions are and build a vocabulary surrounding feelings and emotions, but it allows them to empathise with characters, think critically about why the character in the story may be feeling a certain way, and gives an opportunity for them to talk about their own experiences, their own feelings and how something or somebody made them feel. It’s such an important part of emotional awareness, self regulation and resilience to be able to identify feelings and emotions within themselves and others and build a toolbox of strategies for dealing with various situations or difficult feelings.

Parents and other adults can help children to break this down by labelling particular feelings, encouraging a discussion about those feelings, talking with children about what happens in their body (the immediate physical response to a particular emotion such as crying, clenching fists, laughing, desire to be aggressive, scream etc), talk about the ‘why’ of those physical responses and then also discuss the validation of feelings and the ways we can talk about them, and also deal with those feelings. Children should have an understanding that we all have feelings and emotions, all of us have different body responses to those feelings, and sometimes it’s hard for adults to deal with feelings too, but we need to find ways we can identify and accept those feelings and deal with them, to be able to move past them. Victoria’s Dept of Education have some useful information on Emotional Intelligence in children here.

Bottom line here: Adults will most likely need to take the lead here and encourage the discussion about feelings and emotions as relevant and appropriate, allowing children to participate, ask questions, and possibly share their own feelings during the course of the story, even if story reading is interrupted a little bit.

8. Provides a positive sleep cue

Providing a positive sleep cue is so important so that children associate bedtime with closeness, happy feelings, bonding time, relaxation, cuddles and a story (or two). Bed Storytime is the perfect way to create a positive sleep cue and communicate to children that bedtime involves a positive experience, rather than bedtime being a struggle and a fight for both parent and child, which is the case in many households for many children of various ages. This struggle can be easily avoided in many cases with a routine of: choosing the story together, brushing your child’s teeth with them (as recommended for children under the age of 8), getting into pyjamas, crawling into bed together and getting enthralled in the story together. Most children LOVE this bonding time and followed by cuddles, kisses, getting tucked in and maybe a sung nursery rhyme or two, the bed routine doesn’t have to be a fight or a struggle.

Bottom line here: Making the bedtime routine a positive one, including a fun storytime, cuddles, bonding time, 1 on 1 conversation time and a song can communicate a positive sleep cue to children and make them associate bedtime with relaxation and closeness.

9. Decreases stress and promotes relaxation

bed storytime
Bed storytime is a wonderful way to relax together, teaching your child also that reading is such a positive way to relax!

This point overlaps with my points on building emotional awareness, as well as providing a positive sleep cue and creating bonding time. In our world which so often sees adults rushing, with high stress jobs and a million tasks to be done at home, out running errands and caring for and raising children, often children can take on some of that stress and also need to learn how to relax effectively. Bed storytime is a perfect way to de-stress for children as well as adults. Turning screens off and reading a good book before bed is a great way for adults to relax, and it’s important to model relaxation strategies to children so they can deal with difficult feelings and emotions more effectively, as discussed above. The best way to do this is for adults to actually ENJOY this shared storytime with children, rather than treat is as just another chore. Like I said earlier, this was always one of my favourite parts of the day with my son Andy and so it makes me sad when I hear parents at day care tell me they don’t have the time to read a story to their child before bed, or that they have other things to do.

Bottom line here: Reading a story together before bed can be relaxing, allow the opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions, it provides a wonderful opportunity for closeness and conversation time, cuddles and some songs, all while reducing stress and improving mood.

10. Bed Storytime creates invaluable bonding time

I don’t know if this one needs an explanation! Choosing a story together, crawling under covers, a close, warm cuddle while you read, and getting immersed in a beautiful storybook together, making the story come alive and watching your child delight in the story and the bonding time itself! It has so many benefits for child AND adult and personally, I miss it! My son Andy is now 11 and while he will still give me cuddles in bed or on the couch, he prefers to read alone now.

Ensuring you have time to bond with your child EVERY day will improve your relationship, meaning your child will be more inclined to behave in a more positive way with less acting out and negative attention seeking behaviour. Your child will most likely be more inclined to open up to you and communicate more effectively if they know they have that regular routine of a safe space and the full attention of their parent, while enjoying a story and a chat together.

Bottom line here: Bonding time through bed storytime improves communication, improves emotional intelligence and improves relationships. I recommend it daily!

Summary of Bed Storytime

One simple story each night, so many benefits! I get many parents at day care discussing with me their concerns about their child’s development of language skills, speech development, alphabet awareness and behaviour issues and my first question to them is always, “Do you read a story to your child each night before bed?” More often than not, the answer is no, as they don’t “have time” or they don’t have more than a handful of books at home, or a myriad of other reasons. When I explain to them the benefits of reading each night, they respond with surprise, asking if it can really make that much difference? When done daily, YES YES YES it can!!!

I hope this has helped and I would LOVE to hear your stories!! Tell me! Do you read to your child every night? What are your/their favourites? My favourite for a long time was Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam! See my review of this beauty here! I loved the way the words and the language rolled off my tongue if I didn’t mix up the words!! Does your child love this time of day as much as my son used to? Let me know in the comments below!!

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