Books Are Brain Food

by Dana Smith Bader
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I love to read. I love books.  I love everything related to books – words, pages, libraries, reading cafes, so it should be no surprise that my favorite activity to do with my children when they were growing up was to read books together.  We would snuggle up at bedtime with classic children’s stories, splish splash at bath time with plastic bath books, take our time on the potty reading stories of other children learning to be big boys and girls and ditch their diapers, ally our fears in the doctor’s office with Elmo’s own doctor visits, and even lazily peruse picture books buckled safely into a car seat.  There were endless opportunities for reading, and I tried to ensure we took as many of them as possible to enjoy books together.

Sometimes we didn’t even read the story; we just shared the story together.  When they were babies, we would enjoy flipping the board book pages slowly or quickly, depending on the mood of the day, and sometimes, while teething, my daughters would enjoy chewing on the corners.  As my girls grew, sometimes we just looked at and talked about the pictures.  Later on, my girls started ‘reading’ to me by telling me what they saw in the pictures.  Just by looking at the books with my children, we enjoyed memorable storytelling moments as I modelled being a good storyteller and how to use language and books.  My children learned how to hold and handle books, how to turn pages, and later even how to tell stories and read. 

The variety of books to share with your children is amazing.  Sometimes when you visit a book store or library, there are so many books to choose from that it is hard to know where to start.  As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books, songs, and stories that have good rhyme, rhythm, and repetition.  They also like books with big, colorful pictures, as well as those that make sounds.  Favorites also include busy books and lift-a-flap books.  As they get older and are able to focus for longer periods of time, they can enjoy stories, but you always need to be careful to choose books that are the right length for your child and match your child’s changing interests.

If you want to read to your baby or really young children, you may have to be inventive.  I suggest making reading a routine and trying to share at least one book every day.  Also, a comfy sofa or reading chair where you can both snuggle in is an essential part of your reading routine.  You will also want to turn off the TV or other electronic devices and find a quiet place to read so your child can hear and focus on your voice as you hold your child close so he or she can see your face and the book at the same time.  To get and keep their attention, you can try out funny noises and sounds, encourage them to talk about the pictures and repeat familiar words and phrases, and encourage them to pick the books they want to read.

With a focus on reading in the early years, you will be feeding your child the best brain food.  Sharing stories every day helps your child’s development in numerous ways.  More specifically, reading can help your child:

·         Get to know sounds, words, and language and develop early literacy skills like understanding that print has meaning.

·         Learn to value books and stories and maybe even enjoy reading.

·         Spark his or her imagination and stimulate curiosity.

·         Develop their brain, social skills, and communication skills.

·         Learn the difference between real and make believe.

·         Develop better focus and attention.

·         Understand change and new events.

·         Develop empathy with others.

·         Bond with loved ones.

·         Develop a thirst for knowledge.

·         Give them something better to do than play with an iPad when they get older.

I can’t really think of anything negative about books, except that they can take up a bit too much space if you get too fond of them.  However, if you find yourself being crowded by your books, you can start passing your books onto other parents so their children can begin enjoying books as much as your children.

As your children grow, I hope they will begin to love books because you took the time to share stories and books with them.  The other day my 11 year old told me right before I kissed her good night that she missed story time.  At that moment, I knew the many books we had shared over time had done their magic.  I knew that we had bonded over our books and built our relationship page by page.

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