Beyond Bedtime

Whether it’s a book you’re reading for the first time or the 101st time, there’s nothing like the ritual of curling up with your child for a bedtime story. But even if the bulk of your reading is limited to bedtime, don’t lose sight of some of the many roles that good books can play in children’s lives – whatever the time of day and whatever their ages:

Literacy –
First and foremost, sharing books is crucial to help kids grow to be fully literate adults. Kindergarten students who are read to at least three times a week are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25 percent in reading as children who are read to less than three times a week, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. What’s more, of the children who are read to three or more times a week:

• 26 percent recognize all the letters of the alphabet compared to 14 percent of kids read to less frequently;

• 60 percent are able to count to 20, compared to 44 percent of those read to less frequently;

• 79 percent are able to read or pretend to read, compared to 68 percent of those not read to as much; and

• 54 percent are able to write their own names, versus 49 percent.

Bonding – What were your favorite children’s books growing up? The Wizard of Oz? Winnie the Pooh? Where the Wild Things Are? The Snowy Day? Never underestimate the power of sharing with your child the same books you loved when you were young – it’s the closest you can come to introducing the child you once were to the child you’re raising. And, if it’s a new book that you’re exploring together, laughing at the same things or agonizing over the pain of a character on the page is a powerful way to share time. You get to see what makes your child laugh or cry – and perhaps more important – your kids get to see you laugh and cry, too.

Shared Fun – From board books parents read aloud when their kids are still in diapers to New York Times best sellers that a parent and high-school student read separately and then discuss together, literature is entertainment that can be shared. Have fun with it! Your children’s bookshelf isn’t complete without at least a few titles that make them squeal with laughter, as well as rhyming books such as Green Eggs and Ham that compel kids to shout out the next verse.

Education – Nonfiction books for children have evolved considerably in the last decade or so. From books on the origins of the universe to the intricacies of ant sociology, children’s books make all kinds of topics accessible to even the youngest readers. If your child asks a question you can’t answer, a trip to the library encourages curiosity and fosters a lifelong habit of tapping books for the information we need every day. And if your child doesn’t like to sit still for nonfiction, fiction can make history, space or dinosaurs dance off the page.

A Window on the World – Not many families have the opportunity to travel and let their kids witness new cultures first hand. Books can make that happen. Whether it’s a city child learning about life in the country or a rural child peeking in on urban life, books can expand your child’s world. From Madeline’s France to Strega Nona’s Italy, books have served as windows on the world for generations of children.

If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People, by David J. Smith, is one of the best new books to offer kids a different view of the world. By reducing the population of the world to the size of a village of 100 people, the book uses small numbers kids can understand to show just how the rest of the world lives.

Issues – Sometimes a story is the least threatening – and least awkward – way to introduce a touchy subject to a child. From homosexuality or new siblings to death or disability, there’s probably a children’s book you can use to broach a difficult topic with your child.