by Peyton Johnson, Inner Flower Child Intern
Growing up, I was always late—late to crawl, late to walk, and late to read. After watching my older brother take his first steps and read his first words with ease, my parents were not expecting my developmental delays and understandably grew frustrated. While my doctor explained that I was just more stubborn than my brother (still true) and was following my own schedule (still true), my mother’s patience grew thin when attempting to teach me how to read. All of this had come so easily to my brother, why was I taking so long to pick it up? Defeated (and probably a little scared), she handed me off to my father, tasking him with the arduous job of teaching me how to read.
Every night, my father sat with me and a colorful storybook as I sounded out every letter on the page. Hours and hours of mispronunciations and botched words went by, yet my father never wavered. When I could not read to him, he read to me, animating each character with lively narration. Even though I often became discouraged by the process (and probably threw a tantrum or two), his enthusiasm and support taught me that reading was fun, and that despite the challenges of learning to read, books and stories would always be a connection between my father and me. Our daily reading sessions were special—just for us. My father turned what was once a painful undertaking into a bonding activity that I eventually looked forward to every day.
While reading with my father strengthened the connection between us, parent-child reading also has many cognitive benefits for children that last throughout their entire lives. For instance, a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2015 found that “in preschool children listening to stories, greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension” (American Academy of Pediatrics). This study posits that children with more exposure to parent-child reading at home display higher levels of brain activity involved with semantic language processing in brain scans.
Not only does parent-child reading positively correlate to strengthening visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning skills as seen above, reading aloud to children also improves their social, emotional, and character development. According to a study cited in a PBS Kids for Parents article written by Deborah Farmer Kris, “reading to very young children is linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties” (Farmer Kris). Dr. Mendelshn, a lead researcher in this study, told the New York Times that parent-child reading teaches children to use words to communicate their often difficult feelings and empowers them to better understand and control their actions when experiencing these powerful emotions. Even though children are small, they have big feelings. Reading books aloud to kids teaches them how to understand, handle, and not be scared of those feelings.
Luckily, there are children’s books being written specifically to aid the social emotional learning process for young children. Authors LeVar Burton (host of the “Reading Rainbow”) and Susan Schaefer Bernardo with illustrator Courtenay Fletcher created their healing children’s book, “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” for exactly this purpose. In “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” Papa Mouse reads the story of Rhino to his daughter, Mica Mouse, who is frightened by a storm outside. Just as Papa helps Mica Mouse to not be scared of her feelings, “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm” helps children express their emotions, navigate through difficult experiences, and engage in a healing dialogue facilitated by a discussion section with question prompts in the back of the book. This insightful, colorful, and beautifully illustrated storybook is the perfect Father’s Day present for any dad with young children.
Though I am no longer a starry-eyed toddler slowly tracing out each letter with my pointer finger, my father and I still bond over storytelling. We’ve graduated from reading illustrated children’s books together to discussing the conventions of storytelling in movies, news articles, and our favorite novels. Now, as a college student studying English, I carry the lessons he taught me through reading about patience, perseverance, and the power of stories into all of my work. Perhaps this year on Father’s Day, I’ll ask him to read aloud for old times’ sake.
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me to read and for all the rest. Happy Father’s Day <3