“Imagine an elixir so strong that a daily dose makes your family smarter, happier, healthier, more successful, and more closely attached.
Now imagine that you can have it without spending a dime.”
The Enchanted Hour, Meghan Cox Gurdon
In 2018, one of my Recipes For Reading articles was titled, “No Matter What Happens ~ Read.” The topic of that article was how we can use reading specific relevant books as a way to help children (and adults) understand and cope with challenges and changes. Now, four years later, I find myself again saying, “No matter what happens ~ read.” But this time the read-aloud benefits I am about to share are less to do with the content of the books and much more to do with the act of reading aloud itself.
Over the years, I have written at length about the brain building and speech and language benefits of reading aloud to children starting at birth and even in utero. I have written much about how reading aloud together strengthens the parent-child bond while building a strong foundation for one day learning to read. Now, I’ve learned that there is yet another reason to read aloud with our children, and this reason benefits not only the children but the whole family.
According to a study from the University of Sussex, “reading for as little as six minutes reduces stress levels 68 percent among adults.” According to Reach Out & Read, “Reading out loud helps children cope during difficult or stressful times.” Instead of thinking of reading aloud to children as one more thing we “should” do, we can think of it as the antidote we all need to reduce the overload of stress that has dominated our lives these last two years. When we are stressed and stretched beyond the beyond by things we are powerless to change, the one superpower we have left to calm ourselves and connect with our children is to read, read, and read some more until we can breathe again.
Reading aloud with children won’t change what is happening around us, but it will change what is happening inside us. When we read aloud, we restore and reclaim our calm, which in turn transforms the emotional environment in our homes and classrooms. We can give ourselves and our children or students this daily oasis of reading together for the express purpose of calming, recharging, and connecting. I call this kind of reading “comfort reading.” We do it because it makes us feel good. Even though children will still get all the brain building, language enrichment from the read-aloud time, and will likely do better in other subjects, the goal of comfort reading is to improve mental and physical health by reducing the stress levels of the readers and the listeners.
Comfort reading is a gift for all ages. In her book, The Enchanted Hour, (which I adore and highly recommend) author and read-aloud mother of five, Meghan Cox Gurdon has a chapter titled, “From the Nursery to the Nursing Home.”All ages benefit from reading aloud. Though babies and young children benefit in many ways that are different from the ways seniors benefit, both experience the comfort-reading effect of feeling connected, cared about, and nurtured. The earlier we begin reading to babies, the sooner they come to accept the reading voice as a source of comfort.
Comfort reading as a stress-reduction remedy can be completely free. You don’t need a prescription, it is completely portable, and legal, and it can’t get lost. Since reading aloud benefits the reader as well as the listener, it can become our go-to remedy for stress. While comfort reading is perfect for bedtime, bedtime is not the only time, and reading aloud is not only for young children who are not yet reading on their own. Comfort reading can happen anywhere, any time, and any place, so we always have a way to reconnect, reduce anxiety, and restore everyone’s frazzled nerves.
Hearing stories read aloud comforts all ages. Many school-age children say that they wish their parents would continue to read aloud to them every night even after they learned to read on their own. I know of couples whose children are grown and gone, who still read aloud at bedtime, but now to each other. I also know grown-ups, myself included, who now read aloud to their elderly parents.
I’m pretty sure a lot of us already do some comfort reading without calling it by that name. I believe it’s important to name it. When we can say, “let’s do some comfort reading,” we give family members of all ages the language and the power to ask for comfort and connection. The times we are living through right now require every superpower we can muster just to keep on going day after day. Knowing there is a read-aloud oasis that awaits us, even for only 10 minutes, gives us that extra person (the author) to hold the reigns while we rest in their story. Whether you manage to fit in enchanted read-aloud hours or just some enchanted read-aloud minutes when you need them, I hope this article will be to you like Dorothy discovering she had the power to go home all along.