Young children learn a lot of words from family members at home, especially parents. But Minecraft and Roblox will only get you so far. One of the most tried-and-true ways that children learn new words at home is by having stories read to them. Whether your child has just come home from school and wants to chill out with you or tucked up in bed about to go to sleep, it’s a safe and comforting feeling to be read to. For many different reasons, some children grow up without knowing this feeling.

Why does it matter?

Let’s use an example. Imagine two children: Chloe and Luca. Chloe’s mum and dad read her a couple of stories each night from the time she is born to when she starts school. Luca’s parents don’t read any stories to him before starting school. By the time their foundation/prep school year begins, Chloe has heard nearly 1.5 million more words than Luca. That’s a lot of words!

What does it mean?

The number of words a child has heard by the age of five influences his or her reading ability and speech. Think about it. If you’re hearing new words all the time, you’re going to be able to communicate better because you can choose the right word for the right situation. That Paw Patrol episode wasn’t just ‘good’ – it was ‘incredible!’ That slide isn’t just ‘big’ – it’s ‘gigantic!’ That animal licking your fingers isn’t just a ‘dog’, it’s a ‘golden retriever.’ But it’s not just about new words, it’s also about how words are put together.  And to top it all off, children who have stories read to them every day are going to be hearing the correct speech sounds, so they’ll be less likely to make errors when talking. Not only does it help children build vocabulary, hear the correct speech sounds and positively impact expressive (spoken) language, it also helps children with receptive (understanding) language.  The impact on speech and language is endless. 

What can you do?

If you’re not already doing it, the obvious solution would be to read to your child more often. It’s not always easy finding the extra time when ‘life’ always seems to get in the way. But in the same way that $1 invested today would be worth much more than that in 25 years’ time, investing in your child by reading just one book a day means you’re setting them up to succeed later in life. And if something is constantly getting in the way of reading to your child, be creative about making up for it. One of the best ways to do this is to talk with him or her while playing with each other. Playing with Lego? Describe the piece you’re looking for. Stacking building blocks? Say out loud what you’re building and why you’re building it. Nursing dolls? Talk about how you’re mending them to better health. Expose your child to more words in your everyday interactions and this might help make that million-word gap a zero-word gap.

So, what’s tonight’s story?

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