Benefits of reading with kids: Tips to help kids to read

Parenthood is wonderful – the fun and joy that a child brings are unlike any other experience in life. It also brings with it many responsibilities, like feeding and clothing your child. Sometimes, though, fun and responsibility combine in activities that are both good for them and fun for you both. Reading is or should be, one such activity. The process of finding a story that your child enjoys and reading it to them is extremely satisfying, but it has many benefits besides that. One of the most important is linked to the senses – reading aloud and hearing words/language is great for children’s development. Here are four ways this key sensory experience benefits little ones and tips to help them read more.

Reading improves cognitive ability

There is now much research to suggest that reading increases your child’s cognitive abilities – their rational thinking, logical skills and conceptual understanding. Some research even suggests kids’ IQ increases when read to regularly. By hearing stories, their brain gets used to auditory learning which is very helpful in later life. To unlock some of the more cerebral benefits of reading, try the following:

  • Finding books with varying themes and ideas. This will give children different situations to think about and help broaden their understanding of different topics.
  • Read books that help your child become familiar with sensory and other concepts like colour, sounds, numbers and seasons. The more practice they have in understanding these ideas, the better.
  • Use books with different textures and fabrics to introduce sensory knowledge and understanding too. Head to your local library for lots of exciting options.

Being read to helps improve important sensory skills

Reading also encourages sensory skills like speaking and listening. For example, people who have been read to as children tend to be much better listeners in later life. This isn’t just because they are used to auditory experiences so can listen to stories, lectures or speeches; it’s also because they listen to other people in conversation and actually hear what they have to say. This is an invaluable skill and definitely one that should be encouraged. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Try using different voices for different characters when reading to your child, and getting them to try the voices out too. This will help you to make sure they’re really listening – and it’s fun, too!
  • Ask your child questions about the story at the end to help determine what they really heard.
  • Test your child’s listening skills by setting them a challenge afterwards, like a scavenger hunt. You could task your little one with finding three objects related to the story, for example.
  • Reading encourages important sensory exploration skills away from the ever distracting visual overload of technology.

Reading is a sensory experience that helps improve the bond between parent and child

Increased bonding between the reader and child is another great thing about this activity. There is something extremely intimate about hearing a book being read to you and this can also help the child enjoy the sound of their parent’s voice. A few more tips:

  • Give everyone in the house a chance to read stories to the child so that they have a chance to develop bonds with the whole family.
  • Include grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings in the routine to help the child feel closer to them, too.

Reading is fun!

Most importantly, reading is ultimately about pleasure – stories are fun and listening to them being read is a sensory pleasure! Instilling not only the practice but the love of reading in your child at a young age will be crucial for their enjoyment of this activity in later life. Make sure to show your enthusiasm for reading, as this can be infectious. Here are some ways to make sure that reading is a treat to look forward to, not a chore:

  • Remember that it’s OK to stop reading a book if your child isn’t enjoying it. Don’t force the issue, just move on to a different story.
  • When you finish a book, ask your child what they enjoyed about reading it, and share what you liked about it as well.

There are so many potential benefits to reading with your child. Just sit back and enjoy a good story together. Remember, reading has so many sensory benefits like helping your child get used to the sound of your voice and encouraging them to hear and listen well. So find a good book and enjoy!

Simple sensory strategies for the sensitive child

Each person has a sensory threshold. That is, there is only so much sensory input that one can handle before one feels overwhelmed and out of control.
The lower one’s threshold is, the quicker one gets overwhelmed by their environment. The child with lower thresholds is either sensitive to sensory input and/or avoiding sensory input. It is important to recognize what overwhelms a child, and what overloaded behaviour looks like; because there is a big difference between ‘bad behaviour’ and sensory overload. Sensory sensitivity can be experienced by all our senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch as well as movement.

Highly sensitive children often display very strong reactions to sensory input that some of us will not even notice. Some signs to look out for include:
• Strong reactions to falling – feels pain very strongly
• Extremely sensitive to clothing tags, or socks that just don’t fit right
• Sensitivity to food textures and tastes
• Strong reactions to smells
• Easily irritated and get emotional very quickly
• Sensitive to sounds – block ears to avoid sound
• Sensitive to bright lights or flickering lights
• Very sensitive to touch

Helping the low threshold child:

• Understand that these sensitivities are very real and not attention-seeking!
• Use gentle persuasion to get the child to try new things, but don’t force the child to carry on with an activity if they are uncomfortable and going into overload
• Create structure and routine – these children don’t like change at the best of times. Warn the child of changes in the timetable or substitute teachers well in advance.
• Prepare the child for intense sensory experiences, such as fire drills and war cries. Allow the child to wear earplugs or earmuffs.
• Organise the classroom space and avoid clutter in their workspaces
• Provide movement breaks – chair push-ups, stretching, deep breathing exercises, Brain Gym exercises, etc. All children need and benefit from movement during and after school, as this helps with the regulation and calming of the nervous system.
• Talk softer – don’t give instructions too loudly and limit the number of instructions given at a time (break activities into smaller tasks)
• Don’t expose the child to large, noisy group activities
• Have as much natural light in the room as possible
• Allow noise-cancelling headphones for quiet work time.
• Listening to calming music, using an iPod or small radio. This will help organise the nervous system of the overwhelmed child.
• Don’t overload the child with multi-sensory activities – be aware of the impact of continuously overloading the child with touch, sounds and light
• When getting the children to line up, allow them to stand at the back or the front of the line – this allows for the child to feel less threatened by the possibility of being touched or pushed by another child
• Allow the child’s desk to be at the end of a row, do not place them in the middle of the class. These children are hypervigilant and always on the lookout to see who will tease or touch them
• Create a quiet space in your classroom – honour the need for space

Sensory needs differ from child to child, so opportunities for meeting sensory needs and cravings need to be met, as well as opportunities to avoid noxious sensory input across the board. Happy and regulated children make for calm and effective learning in the classroom.

Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years of experience in both the public and the private sector. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.