“Alexa, read my child a bedtime story.”
Last week I heard a radio ad gushing about the option to have Amazon’s Alexa read children bedtime stories. In the brief ad, the presumably exhausted mother is relieved to let Alexa take over this onerous duty so that she, the parent, can just relax.
Please don’t let Alexa read your child bedtime stories.
There’s no disputing the advantages of reading aloud to children. Studies show that read-aloud sessions improve cognitive development, build language skills and vocabulary, increase concentration, and cultivate imagination and creativity. Brain scans of young children listening to stories show vigorous brain activity, and scientists believe these reading sessions improve neuroconnectivity. Certainly any parent who wants to improve their child’s chances for academic success should read to their offspring early and often.
But there’s more to those read-aloud sessions than pure academics. Holding a baby or toddler on your lap while you read fulfills that essential human need for physical contact, and even older children may snuggle next to Mom or Dad while hearing a story. Parents may subtly teach reading and language skills as a child “listens and looks” at books with both pictures and text, but also often interact in ways that promote bonding. “Live” parent readings allow pauses for questions and discussion that further enhance understanding of the story as well as parent-child communication. These are the elements of read-aloud time that Alexa simply cannot duplicate.
To be fair, using Alexa to call up a professionally narrated audio book might be an option for older children and adults. While the thought of Alexa reading Goodnight Moon in her cold electronic voice sounds like something from dystopian sci-fiction, recordings featuring talented narrators can enhance a more complex story. Our family has listened to at least 50 such audiobooks on road trips, and many are beyond delightful. (If you’ve not heard Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by his great-great grandson, you’ve missed a spectacular treat.) But for your younger children, nothing beats a live human reader and real human interactions.
As a family, some of our happiest shared memories include reading together. Yes, sometimes we were tired out at the end of the day, and yes, on occasion we may have hidden our copy of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go so as to maintain our sanity. But the benefits were well worth the effort; our kids learned to read at an early age, they still read often, and both are academically successful.
So at bedtime, turn off the electronics, snuggle with your little ones, and share a good story. You’ll be building little brains, but more importantly, you’ll be creating memories and strengthening relationships that will long outlast Alexa.