Dr. Seuss once said, “The more you read, the more things you know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Parents, teachers, and doctors often emphasize the importance of reading to a child’s well-being, education and health. But why does it matter? Numerous reasons indicate reading is beneficial to your health beyond offering excellent entertainment, promoting deep thinking and sending you on far-off adventures with the turn of a page.

Research suggests literacy is the most influential predictor of adult health, and it begins at birth. Reading effects various portions of the brain including brain function, memory, associative learning, language and vision. It even reduces stress and increases attention span. Children and adults with low reading skills are less likely to be healthy compared to those with high reading skills. In fact, those with poor reading abilities can have 3.5 times higher health costs and three times worse
health results.

Success Starts with Reading 

Infants and young children may not read quite yet, but they love hearing stories and looking at pictures. Reading to your child helps their brains develop, strengthens their vocabulary and fosters a close emotional bond.

“Babies hear and perceive language,” said Kathy Ingram, Director of Multi Sector Development 

Community Outreach for the Center for Health Delivery Innovation at Nemours Children’s Health System. “Even before expressing coherent words and simple sentences, infants and toddlers are making those important connections and forming 

thoughts. Parents can use conversational volleys to help further the child’s learning.” 

For example, when reading a book about animals, you can point to specific images and words while asking your child questions such as: 

What animal is this? That’s right. It’s a cow.

Can you tell me the color of the truck? Red. Good job.

Every book he/she listens to or reads is a building block for future success and a step toward healthy living.

Protecting Factor or Risk Factor  

As children age, reading ability or inability serves as either a protecting factor or risk factor. 

When children develop good reading skills in school, they will feel smarter and want to be their “best” each day. Those early successes tell children (as early as four years old) how they are doing in school compared to classmates, setting the foundation for healthy self-esteem. 

“Children who read at grade level by the third grade are more likely to be successful in school,” said Ingram. “These students have a higher chance of graduating high school and becoming functioning members of society.”

On the flip side, if your child struggles with reading, he or she may withdraw in class and may feel scared about reading out loud or writing on the board. Your child might act out to avoid attention to the reading problem or suffer from headaches, stomachaches, anxiety and fatigue because of stress.  These behavioral issues and illnesses cause the child to miss school frequently, further affecting their inability to read.  

“Those failing to read at grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of school, develop substance abuse problems or encounter a teen pregnancy,” said Ingram. “As these children enter adulthood, the struggle to find a job increases due to low literacy level, and access to quality health insurance is limited.”

Skill Enhancement Tips  

Science shows those who read more have more complex brains. It is crucial to read at least 10 minutes a day with your child. 

“If the experience is not pleasant for the parent or child, it will be more of a chore,” said Ingram. “Therefore, make reading as fun as possible. Model reading and show your child reading is part of everyday life. You can do this by pointing out street signs or looking at restaurant menus.” 

To enhance your child’s literacy skills, find books of interest and keep 20 or more children’s books in your home, including sensory books and library books. Limit screen time, especially for those younger than four years old. Also, talk with the doctor at every checkup about your child’s language and reading readiness milestones. 

Books have the power to inspire, enrich, stimulate and educate children of all ages, interconnecting mental, physical and emotional aspects of development. So, have your child snuggle up with a favorite book and go on a magical journey.