By Rachel Buchholz for National Geographic

My mother insists that the reason that I was the only kindergartner in my class who could read was twofold: that every day she’d sit me in front of Sesame Street (her generation’s version of YouTube babysitting), and that every night, my father would read to me.

Parents are likely aware of the benefits of reading to young children. But those benefits—expanded vocabulary, improved comprehension, better listening skills—continue when parents read to kids even after they’re old enough to read on their own. Besides some excellent bonding time, that experience can foster a lifelong love of reading, something that helps kids build empathy, tolerance, and perspective.

And those are things we could all use a little more of right now.

As the country continues to struggle with a historic pandemic, in addition to now grappling with intense protests sparked by the killing of an African American man by a white police officer, parents are understandably worried about how their children are handling it all. And though having a supportive family is an important part of helping kids deal, the right book character can also help children process many of the troubling issues and emotions they’re likely facing right now: no-good-day anger from Alexander, intolerance and lack of compassion against Wonder’s Auggie, and even more serious issues like racism and injustice from To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout. (For a little kid-escapism, here’s a list of Nat-Geo-recommended books that can transport them to other countries.)

Reading together by starting a family book club is another way to help children process feelings they might be having. Asking children to express how Malfoy’s life might have been different if he had been nicer to Harry Potter and the gang or how they would rewrite the ending to The Giving Tree can give children insight into the importance of empathy, kindness, and generosity. Plus: “Reading relaxes the body and calms the mind,” says Patricia Edwards, language and literacy professor at Michigan State.

Read more here.

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