You might guess that reading to your child when he or she is very young helps them read better later, and that is true. But bedtime reading has an important emotional role to play. Research tells us that most of the reading problems in American school start around third grade. Even children who enter school with strong langtuage skills can hit a wall at this important time.
The reason is simple. We change the way we teach reading right around third grade. Children stop learning to read and start reading to learn. That means they get less support, and are expected to read independently. Some kids just aren't ready at that point, and even kids that are may be hurt. Up until then, reading was probably easy, fun, and interactive. Now what they did for fun becomes hard work. It will become easier, but it is important to get over that hump.
If a child has fond memories of reading together when they were younger, those memories may be just the support they need. Yes, reading to a young child increases their language skills, but the emotional benefits may be just as great. How do you make the most of those benefits? Make family reading time an extremely regular thing. Don't let anything get in the way. If you are out at some event at the time when you usually read together, bring a book along and find a quiet corner to read it. If you are traveling, call in and read a book over the phone. If it is important to you, it will be important to your child as well.
And when that tough time comes, whether your child is seven, twelve, or seventeen; keep reading! Nothing will remind them of how much they loved family reading time like reliving it every night. Kids of any age still benefit from being read to, even if they are indepent readers. You can stop reading to your kids when they turn ninety and can't hear you any more. Until then, reading is good for their brains, and also their emotions.