By Sara Reichstadt, Education Coordinator, Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers
Our house, like many of yours, wraps up each day with a bedtime story. We have all heard the many educational benefits of this nightly ritual, but sometimes the most important benefits are not always academic.
We all have busy days, filled with jostling schedules. Many evenings at our house are quickly filled with dinner, homework and bath routines. However, every night we make time to unwind together and enjoy a simple bedtime story. Sometimes these stories may only last ten minutes, while other nights we are led into discussions for half an hour or longer. Knowing we will always have this guaranteed connection at the end of the day not only comforts children, but parents as well. There is no better way to end the day than with unhurried and uninterrupted time together.
Morals and values are woven throughout many children’s books, making these stories ideal for discussing your own family values. We can ask questions about the characters. “How did they feel?”, “Were they kind?”, and “What would YOU do?” Questions like these often pull out real life examples. Discussions may come up about a time when children felt proud, frustrated, or when their feelings were hurt. These talks help young children better identify their own strong emotions and offer the opportunity to problem solve as a family.
Children’s books often show relationships between family members. This is a nice time to relate the characters to your own family. While reading a story featuring a “grandma”, take time to talk about their own grandma, how much she loves them and how she makes them feel. Sibling relationships are also commonly featured and can offer many opportunities for your child to relate and share.
Friendship is yet another theme regularly featured in children’s literature. Ask your child, “Is this what you like to do with your friends?” Discuss how important friends are to you, as well as how important your child is to others. “Why do you think (friend) loves to play with you so much?” Reminding children how important they are to other people builds self-esteem and confidence. Take time to notice examples in stories of how we can treat the people we love. This reinforces positive relationship skills in your little one, and illustrations can be very helpful in sharing examples.
A few quick tips. . .
Play with books! Get into character and have fun playing with actions and expressions. My children love nothing more than hearing us use silly voices for animals, machines, and monsters. This simply adds humor and interest to the story, making your time together that much more memorable.
Let’s relax! We know reading to children helps them gain immeasurable literacy skills. However, I encourage you to avoid turning the bedtime story into an academic practice of quizzing your child on words, letter sounds and punctuation. We can build these skills throughout the day when our children are eager and ready for the challenge. Reserve bedtime stories for enjoyment and connection.
Read to older children too! Sometimes we forget about the importance of reading to children who are already proficient readers. Continuing to read to your older child offers your family the same benefits as reading to little ones. Chapter books are a great way to enjoy a shared interest, as well as flex imaginations with limited illustrations. Even our older children enjoy getting lost in a story after a long day.
Any parent who has read a bedtime story knows, the cozy ritual of being secure, comfortable and connected is what make this time truly special. Our children may think it is the wonderful stories that make them plead “one more!” . . . but perhaps it is more than just the books.
A few family favorites. . .
One Winter’s Day by M. Christina Butler:
A current favorite of our family, this story features a kind little hedgehog in a snowstorm. Marvelous examples of kindness and gratitude are offered up for discussion. Noticing how others feel, reading their expressions and highlighting kind acts are easy to do with this sweet book.
I’m Not Sleepy by Jane Chapman:
This charming story features a Grandma Owl putting Little Owlet to bed. This tale offers opportunities to discuss bedtime routines, the never-ending kindness of a clever Grandma, as well as the bag of tricks Little Owl employs. (All of which my four-year-old finds particularly amusing!)
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo:
This humorous book is perfect for introducing your preschooler or kindergartener to chapter books. The chapters are short and witty, featuring the Watson’s pet pig, Mercy. When Mr. and Mrs. Watson find themselves in a precarious predicament, it is Mercy to the rescue! This story offers many opportunities to talk about responsibility, being helpful and caring for your family. Mercy (the pig) gave my 6 year old and I, four nights of reading pleasure, as well as many good laughs! I hope your family enjoys it as much as ours.
Sara Reichstadt is the Education Coordinator for the six NAEYC-accredited Twin Cities Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers. Sara earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota, where she trained in the Shirley G. Moore Lab School. Sara, who has been with Kinderberry Hill since 1999, has taught in infant, toddler, and preschool classrooms as well as serving in management positions. As Education Coordinator, Sara helps implement curriculum, offer classroom support, and conduct teacher trainings. Sara is also a MNCPD (Minnesota Center for Professional Development) registered trainer in the SEEDS of Early Literacy Program. She is passionate about early education and helping children, teachers, and families. Sara has two young children and knows firsthand the importance of a quality early education.