When dads are reading to children, something special happens. Here’s why reading to your kids is one of the best daddy hacks of all.
One of the great joys in my life as a parent is reading to my children before bed. Snuggling up on the sofa with a story has been part of the bedtime routine since any of us can remember. My children are now seven and 11 and both vociferous readers in their own right, but they still love our special storytime.
My wife and I share this pleasure, and in truth she does more of it than me. But once or twice a week I still sit down and spend an hour reading to my children. I do it because I enjoy it, but an increasing body of scientific evidence suggests that, while reading to children is good for them whoever does it, there are specific benefits when it’s dad’s turn to pick up the book.
Fathers Reading Every Day
That’s partly why the FRED programme (Fathers Reading Every Day) is encouraging dads to get the reading habit. The organisation points out that reading together is a fun and easy way to bond with children, and that it helps their language development.
“Reading together is an essential part in helping to encourage a love of stories and of later independent reading,” she says. “It helps to develop comprehension, nurture empathy and is also a proven essential tool in language development – children hear words and use them in conversation.”
But as well as these practical, developmental benefits, there is just something special about cuddling up and reading.
“Children also respond to the attention shown from a reader and find comfort in that,” says Hilary. “I read to both my two daughters avidly and they still talk about it today even though they are both in their mid 20s!”
Nicola Davies, author of 20 children’s books, including the lovely King of the Sky, couldn’t agree more. She says:
“The one message I would like all parents to absorb is that reading to your children at bedtime is one of the deepest and sweetest joys in all of life.”
“If I had to live one moment for all eternity it would be one on the sofa with my kids reading something we all loved. Heaven can be no better.”
Dads read less than mums
So reading together is great, but sadly, as FRED notes, “dads read less with their children than mums do.” That’s sad for both dads and kids, who are missing out on a special time together. And it also means that many children aren’t getting the specific benefits of reading with dad.
What might those benefits be? A Harvard University study from 2015 found that children benefit more from dads reading bedtime stories than mums (though they benefited from both), because reading with dad tended to spark more imaginative discussions.
Elisabeth Duursma, who conducted the research, said: “The impact is huge, particularly if dads start reading to kids under the age of two. Reading is seen as a female activity and kids seem to be more tuned in when their dad reads to them – it’s special.”
Meanwhile, a study published this year by researchers at Imperial College London found that children of dads who interact with them regularly and from a very young age – including reading to them – had better cognitive development a year or more later.
“There have been many studies about how critical it is for dads to be positive role models in the lives of their children,” says Hilary Robinson. “Engagement through reading is a positive experience on a number of levels. It helps to develop companionship, trust, empathy and the sharing of personal experiences.”
“There is a saying that ‘it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men’ – and reading together helps to build strong children.
The best of times
Meanwhile, FRED says that dads who take an interest in their child’s schooling and education are encouraging speedier progress, better behaviour, more enjoyment of school and – eventually – better educational attainment. Reading books to children is a wonderfully easy way to instil a love of language, improve vocabulary and spark young imaginations.
To this last point, Nicola Davies adds: “Films and TV are passive. They do the work for you, and that’s great. But with books you complete the circuit to make the pictures run. And because every ‘you’ is different then the circuit completed is different too, and particular to each individual. In our hearts and minds the protagonists in books are us, the reader.”
So yes, the benefits are wide and varied, but for me they are simply a happy byproduct of something I would do anyway. Stretched out on the sofa with a child nestled under each arm, lost in the adventures of hobbits, Gruffaloes or – more recently – time travelling teenagers, is one of those magical moments that is far more rewarding than the effort involved seems to warrant. In fact, the only sad thing about reading with my children is knowing that, one day, they will no longer want to do it.
TAKE YOUR STORY TIME UP A LEVEL – DaddiLifeForce – The Magic of Storytime