Ask the Expert: If you're busy, is an audio-book as good as reading to your children?
Q: WHAT are the advantages of reading aloud to my children? I'm so busy that sometimes it's easier just to play them an audio-book.
A: Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of The Enchanted Hour, says: "As a mum of five, I understand. It can feel as though there's not enough time in the day to cross off half the items on the to-do list, let alone add a new one. But here's what you need to know: Reading aloud is the single best way to give your children the good things they need to thrive in life.
"It's also – and this is the bonus for busy parents – perhaps the most efficient miracle of multitasking ever devised. When you sit down with a book and a child (having turned off your technology, lest it interfere or distract), you unleash a tsunami of neurochemical benefits. Stress and anxiety diminish, while feelings of relaxation and mutual trust increase.
"For babies and young children, looking at pictures while listening to a story engages deep brain networks, helping to create the architecture for future thought, reasoning, and imaginative exploration.
"Listening to stories also fosters the development of a healthy attention span, which is a key predictor in school success, not just in the early years, but all the way through to university.
"Reading widely and adventurously to your children will acquaint them with thousands of words they may never hear anywhere else, broadening and deepening their vocabularies. They'll also pick up grammar and syntax, which will make them better speakers and writers. And all this, before we've taken into account the beauty and joy of the stories themselves.
"A daily 'enchanted hour' – even if it's only 20 minutes – is a chance to share with your children the stories you loved, to voyage with them through stories that are new to both of you, to introduce them to myths, fables, fairy tales, poetry, non-fiction, trickster stories, nonsense verse, picture-book biographies, classic novels, and any other category of writing I may have missed.
"Audio books are wonderful, and I love to listen to them too, but when it comes to nurturing the young mind, they – and the electronic devices that tempt us all – are no match for a loving, responsive, physically present human being. Read to your children. I promise, you'll never regret it."
The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power Of Reading Aloud In The Age Of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon is published by Piatkus, priced £13.99. Available now.