The bedtime story: a classic pillar of parenthood. Most of us can still remember those precious moments before we had to go to sleep, when Mom or Dad would sit bedside and read aloud a story as we let our sleepy imaginations wander the wide landscape of storyland. We certainly didn’t realize at the time that those moments were helping fuel the foundation of the person we’d become. But it’s true.
Benefits of Bedtime Stories
There is tons of research out there touting the beautiful benefits of bedtime stories. And if you know anything about Literati, you probably know we were founded on brain science and we love to nerd out over it.
Starting with children as young as newborns, reading out loud to your child often can result in a bigger vocabulary and an overall stronger grasp of language skills.
Throughout their early development years, storytime becomes a stepping stone for conversation, says Lise Eliot, Ph.D, assistant professor of neuroscience at Chicago Medical School and author of What’s Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. Think about all the wonderful things you can share with your child through conversation. Bedtime stories are the best place to start.
As they get older, you may notice a wild-streak in your toddlers, accompanied by endearing bursts of energy. It’s hard to keep up, and can be even harder to get them to slow down. Neuroscientists agree that when you snuggle up and read a book together, it helps soothe and comfort your child. Cortisone levels—which cause stress—are lowered and they’re able to be calm and focused. In fact, reading has proven to be among the best activities we can do to destress. That’s why storytime is great before bedtime.
Bedtime stories are good, got it. But—what’s the best way to do them?
We all want to do the absolute best for our children. When you think about the incredible importance of reading together, you might feel some pressure to make sure you do it right. How many are too many? How old is too old? What time of the day is best?
Never fear. We did some research (told you—we’re research nerds) and we’re here to help you become a bedtime story pro.
When to start, and when to stop.
Get started right away! It may seem silly to read to newborns, but while you read to your babies, the sound of your voice helps their little brains absorb so many important goodies.
Keep going! Nightly stories can remain a bonding time throughout the toddler and pre-teen years. Watch their attentive listening turn to attentive learning, as they start to recognize words and eventually even read full sentences.
Even as your child begins to read on their own, they can still benefit from being read to. As they get older, choose complex books a bit above their own reading level that you can read to them. This allows them to continue expanding their vocabulary, plus reading these more mature stories can foster lots of conversations between you and your growing child. Certain topics that may be more difficult to explain, such as death or prejudice, are easier to tackle outside the context of your own life.
Why stop?! Experts suggest parents continue the reading tradition even into the teen years. Instead of leaving them alone in their rooms to read at bedtime, read together in the family room before bed. You can even create family book clubs, reading the same stories and discussing each one.
Survey says: we are never too young—or too old—for bedtime stories.
Is timing, really, everything?
Storytime is traditionally at bedtime because it helps us cuddle up, calm down and settle our kids into sleepytime. But does it matter what time we crack open the book every night?
The short answer is no.
Every child is unique and the bedtime battles can vary throughout the years, so it’s better to be flexible and find what works for your family. Try to catch them somewhere between wide awake and falling asleep. You want them to be alert enough to engage in the story, at least in the beginning. If their sweet little eyes are heavy right after bathtime, it might be better to read beforehand, or while you fill the tub.
Maybe storytime happens right after dinner on the couch, or after jammies in bed. What’s more important is that it happens, as often as possible. Daily is the goal, which often requires some discipline on the part of the parent. Even when you’re tired from the work day, the kids are driving you bonkers, and you just want to relax on your own—try to stick to your bedtime story routine. It will pay off in the long run.
On especially tough days, reward yourself with a quiet glass of wine or ice cream when they’re all settled in bed. You’ve earned it.
Survey says: don’t stress too much over timing. Frequency is key.
Okay, so what’s the magic number of bedtime stories?
Well, let’s see what the experts say:
UK reading charity Booktrust recommends aiming for 10 minutes of reading every day. Here in the USA, it’s generally recommended to read a minimum of 15 minutes. So, use this as a rule of thumb. But don’t etch that rulebook in stone!
As your children get older, try increasing the time to 20-30 minutes. If they’re asking for more, that’s ALWAYS a good thing! As long as your kids are still getting enough sleep (let’s avoid that tired crankiness), pack in as much reading as they want.
“Again, again!” will start to ring in your ears as your kids find their favorite stories. Should you answer their request? Absolutely! Repeating stories helps further their brain development.
“The first time children hear a book, they don’t catch everything,” says Virginia Walter, Ph.D., associate professor in the graduate school of education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. But as they hear it again and again, they start to notice patterns and sequences and can predict what happens next. This reading comprehension lends itself to things like math and science later in life.
So, experts say 10-15 minutes. Literati says, read for as long as their little heart desires, without cutting into that much-needed sleep. And feel free to read the same book a few times over!
In conclusion: there is no magic number, or perfect way to bedtime story.
The bedtime story is perfectly magic all on it’s own.