As printed in the Boston Parent's Paper

Jacob Smith, age 6, of Manchester, wants to be a paleontologist.  His mother, Chris, credits the
family's bedtime story reading ritual with inspiring Jacob's lofty career ambition.  Yet experts
say that reading to a child does more than that.

Reading to a child at the end of the day is good for kids and parents alike.  Allowing a child to
express his thoughts before going to sleep can only help him sleep more soundly and
peacefully, says Richard Lipman, M.D., former chief of staff at Northshore Children's Hospital in
Salem.  As long as bedtime conversations are pleasant and not stressful, they are healthy for a
child and are also good for parents, especially working parents who don't have a lot of time to
interact with their children, Lipman says.

Neuroscientists believe that reading a familiar story while snuggling close to a parent can
comfort a child, thus lowering his cortisol "stress" levels.  Lipman believes that bedtime is a
good time to read to children because it can be done every day, a ritual that is conducive to
good sleeping habits.

Scientific evidence shows that reading to a child at bedtime contributes greatly to a child's
development, especially at an early age.  Dr. Barry Zuckerman, chief of pediatrics at Boston
Medical Center and founding director of the national Reach Out and Read program agrees.  
"I think reading to children at bedtime helps them develop a transition from the active world to
sleep," he says.  "Particularly at the age of 1 and 2, the issue isn't going to sleep as much as it
is giving up the world.  I think a book can be that transition to help them calm down."

Vital to Learning

The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2005, only 30 percent of fourth
graders are proficient readers, a situation that reading experts believe could be improved very

"When children share books with someone they love, they learn to love books, and the first
step in learning to read is to love books," says Zuckerman.  Reading to children not only
supports their language development and their memory, but also helps them to become
proficient readers.  That's exactly what Christ Smith is trying to accomplish with Jacob and his
younger brother Ethan, age 3.

"I believe the keys to wisdom and understanding about any given subject can be found within
the pages of a book, and I encourage my children to respect books for this reason.  Books are a
huge part of Jacob and Ethan's lives and I truly believe the depth of their educational and social
development directly relates to their love of books," she says.

Lisa DeFelice is a freelance writer and mother from West Peabody