Reading brings so many pleasures and benefits but I believe the overriding reason why parents read to their children is that it simply makes them feel good. The intimacy of these shared moments are part of what makes parenting so meaningful and satisfying.
Lucky are the adults who can tap into the memory of being read to as a child. They are tapping into a felt memory of the love, tenderness and affection they received during the reading experience. These emotions are at the heart of what children need to thrive and they are the currency of the reading relationship.
The pleasure and rewards of reading is an experience we recognize even though it might be difficult to anatomize. Social science is especially inadequate to describe the nature of the joy and benefits parents receive when they read with children. On the most practical level, parents read to children because they know it is good for them. Reading and talking with children about the books they read builds strong literacy skills. Learning to read is critical to a child’s success both in and out of school and literacy is one of the best predictors of a child’s future success.
However there are other long lasting benefits when parents read to their children. Inside every reading experience is the opportunity for parents and children to be part of a Reading Relationship. A Reading Relationship happens when parents talk with their child to help them better understand what they read, allowing them to get more enjoyment from the reading experience. A reading relationship shows children they are loved and the desire to understand one another is at the heart of what children need to become a person in their own right. The conversations that happen inside a Reading Relationship build a close bond between parents and children
In addition, reading fiction is one of the best ways children grow their capacity to feel empathy, one of the most important qualities needed to have a high emotional intelligence. A good story invites children to step inside the shoes of a character, to find out what happened and to try and understand why a character acted in the way they did. Part of understanding the actions and motivations of another helps us better know ourselves and this is one of the gifts of fiction.