Suddenly you’re pulled from your thoughts by a sound like million tinkling bells, and you turn to see an iridescent green cloud billowing out of the laundry-detergent bottle. From inside the cloud emerges a genie! He looks at you kindly, seeing that you’re overwhelmed with household duties.
“O humble, toiling one!” says the genie. “You have been working so very hard! I’m going to give you a beautiful gift.”
A gift! From a genie! What could it be?
“I am going to give you 15 minutes! Fifteen whole minutes to do with whatever you desire.” The genie looks beneficent and proud.
Your face falls. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but really? Just 15 minutes? Accepting your faltering thanks, the genie vanishes back into the detergent bottle and you return to your thoughts.
“What can I do with 15 minutes?” you wonder. “That’s not enough time to do anything! Well, I guess I could eat a whole salted-caramel cupcake, licking the frosting off first and savoring every bite . . . but I’d probably regret that. I could organize my sock and underwear drawer, but 15 minutes would barely make a dent. Hmmm.”
Well, what if we told you that with 15 minutes every day you could do something so powerful, so amazing, so truly magical that it would change your life and the life of your family forever?
Study after study is showing conclusively the incredible benefits to parents and children of having a regular storytime routine. And just 15 minutes a day is all it takes.
“Read?” you say, “I’d rather have the cupcake!” OK, eating a cupcake for 15 minutes every day does sound like fun, but over time the only thing you’ll have to show for it will be on your hips. On the other hand, the rewards of a regular storytime routine can’t be measured, and over time they only grow. For a fun infographic on the many reasons to read aloud for 15 minutes (and unfortunate statistics about how many people don’t) please check out this wonderful poster from ReadAloud.org.
All right, so you’re ready to accept the genie’s gift and pass it on to your child, but where in your day should you carve out that 15 minutes? We suggest you begin your regular reading time at bedtime. There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about the benefits of bedtime stories, and with good reason. Reading for 15 minutes at bedtime not only exposes children to new vocabulary, develops reading and language skills, promotes brain growth, inspires empathy and encourages family bonding.
It also settles children down! We’d like to see a cupcake that can do that!
There is an amazing physiological and biological phenomenon that takes place when families sit down together and snuggle around a book. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that gets us all riled up, are measurably reduced in both parents and children when they cuddle up together. Meanwhile, Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes us melt over babies (and puppies, and all things adorable), increases, making this close family time one crazy-happy 15-minute love-fest!
Better yet, it can then become a soothing sleepy-fest. We’re going to give you our usual advice about when to begin practicing your sacred storytime: even before your baby is born. Experts say that if an expectant mother settles down at the same time each evening, her baby will become conditioned to settle down at that same time. Her heartbeat and breathing will slow down at this time every night, and so will her baby’s. Add a bedtime story to the mix and you have a recipe for a newborn who is sleepy, relaxed, and calmed by the words he knows so well.
And if expectant parents read to their baby for 15 minutes each night during the last trimester, they will see the magic firsthand once the baby is born. Way back in 1986, DeCasper and Spence showed that newborns responded more positively to a familiar rhyme read to them by their mother before birth than to an unfamiliar story, and others have been expanding on these findings ever since (see numerous studies in our Research sidebar list). Most recently (reported on Brain Decoder in July 2015), researchers at the University of Salzburg conducted similar experiments with mothers, as well as strangers, reading nursery rhymes to their babies in the third trimester. They found that the sound of an unfamiliar rhyme read by a stranger increased stress responses in the newborns, but that the familiar rhymes, spoken by either their mother or a stranger, had a calming effect.
Lots of new parents we know have found the same to be true (including those who regularly read our book to their babies in utero!), and there’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence out there for the Googling, but there’s nothing like personal experience. If you’re pregnant, especially in your third trimester, why not give it a try? Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for just 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. Then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, and watch its effects. Does he stop crying? Turn in the direction of your voice? Move his face and body in response to the story?
Well, that’s just the beginning. If you continue that 15 minutes of shared family reading time throughout your child’s life, you won’t need a genie after all. Just a little time, your voice, and a beloved story will create real and lasting magic for your child.