Nurturing children’s minds one page at a time

Ruth Falzon discusses the enduring value of bedtime reading
Bedtime reading has a profound impact on children’s cognitive, emotional and linguistic development. Photos: Shutterstock.com

Papà, papà, you skipped a page. Go back. Go back!”

In my family, my husband and I had decided that since I was spending more time with the children during the day, bedtime reading would always be with Papà. Papà really looked forward to this each evening, and, of course, my son and daughter would have their chosen books ready on the bed, with me at times inserting a new one betwixt. Sometimes, Papà was a tad tired and may have ‘accidentally’ skipped a page, despite this being the most cherished moment of the day.

As parents, educators and caregivers, we often strive to provide our children with the best opportunities for growth and development. Bedtime reading stands out as one timeless practice for its profound impact on cognitive, emotional and linguistic development. Beyond its soothing ritualistic appeal, bedtime reading offers many benefits that shape young minds and nurture a lifelong love for learning and bonding.

Bedtime reading serves as a cognitive workout for young brains. As children listen to stories, their brains actively engage in comprehension, prediction and critical thinking. Children expand their linguistic repertoire through exposure to rich vocabulary and complex sentence structures, enhancing reading comprehension and expressive language skills.

In our bi- or tri-lingual contexts, parents must ensure that all the languages their children are exposed to are included in this practice. Bedtime reading is a linguistic playground, fostering language acquisition and literacy skills from an early age. Children expand their vocabulary and develop a deeper understanding of language mechanics.

Moreover, the rhythmic cadence of storytelling enhances phonemic awareness, laying the groundwork for reading and writing skills.

The interactive nature of reading, where children may ask questions, make predictions, or relate the story to their own experiences, encourages active participation and dialogue, reinforcing language development.

Storytelling sparks imagination and creativity, transporting children to fantastical realms where anything is possible. As they visualise characters and settings, children exercise their imaginative faculties, fostering creativity, which is essential for problem-solving and innovation in later life, particularly with the context of the 4Cs of 21st-century learning − creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication − and the flexibility and continuous learning needed in a fast-evolving 21st-century civilisation.

“Stories help children make sense of the world around them and navigate complex emotions”

Beyond its cognitive benefits, bedtime reading provides a nurturing space for emotional development. Stories serve as mirrors, reflecting children’s experiences, emotions and challenges, validating their feelings and offering comfort. Whether the narration is a tale of courage in the face of adversity or of empathy and friendship, stories help children make sense of the world around them and navigate complex emotions.

The bonding experience between caregiver and child during bedtime reading cultivates a sense of security and attachment. This intimate ritual fosters trust and strengthens the parent-child bond, laying the foundation for healthy socio-emotional development.

Bedtime reading lays the groundwork for a lifelong love of learning. By associating reading with warmth, comfort and joy, children develop a positive attitude towards books and learning − an attitude that extends far beyond the bedtime hour.

As children grow, this intrinsic love for reading becomes a powerful motivator for academic success and personal growth. Moreover, the diverse array of stories exposes children to different cultures, perspectives and experiences, fostering empathy, tolerance, and a broader worldview.

The bonding experience between caregiver and child during bedtime reading cultivates a sense of security and attachment.

To maximise the benefits of bedtime reading, consider the following tips:

Consistency is key: Establish a regular bedtime routine that includes reading. Consistency provides comfort and predictability for children, enhancing the effectiveness of the ritual. The ritual usually includes pre- and post-bedtime reading. For example, I brush my teeth, change to nightwear, phone nanna good night, read bedtime, hug my caregiver, tucked in bed and lights out.

Follow the child’s lead: Allow children to choose books that capture their interest and imagination. Flexibility and autonomy empower children and foster a sense of ownership over their reading experience.

Interactivity: Encourage active participation by asking questions, making predictions and relating the story to personal experiences. This enhances comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Create a cosy environment: Designate a comfortable and inviting space for bedtime reading, free from distractions. Dim the lights, snuggle with blankets and create a serene atmosphere conducive to relaxation and focus.

In conclusion, bedtime reading transcends its role as a nightly ritual. It is a powerful catalyst for holistic child development. Through cognitive stimulation, emotional nurturing, language enrichment and a lifelong love of learning, bedtime reading lays the foundation for bright and promising futures. So, tonight and every night, let us embark on the timeless adventure of bedtime reading, nurturing young minds one page at a time.

Prof. Ruth Falzon is an executive council member at MACP − Malta Association for the Counselling Profession.

f you’re interested in learning more about the counselling profession or would like additional information on mental health and self-care, visit www.macpmalta.orgwww.facebook.com/CounsellingMaltaMACP or e-mail info@macpmalta.org.

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