Emotional Connection Through Storytime: Reach Out and Read & The Nurture Science Program

Storytime can be such a tender moment with our children. Boisterous bathtime is behind you, the jammies are on, and it’s time to get cozy. Cold little toes find warmth against your side, a still-flushed cheek nuzzles into your chest, and that sweet face looks up at you, ready to be transported into another world. 

We hear a lot about how important reading is for children’s brains—we know that brain development, language, and memory are all crucial benefits of early reading. But now we know that learning happens best when our bodies are in a relaxed, receptive, healthy state. 

At the Nurture Science Program, we study the lifelong benefits of nurture behavior. From a nurture science perspective, storytime is a rich sensory-emotional experience: while cuddling, making eye contact, hearing a voice we love, and even taking in each other’s scents, we feel safe and open to explore our feelings and express them to one another.

Sharing these sensations and emotions with each other activates something that we call autonomic emotional connection.

Why “Autonomic” Emotional Connection?

The autonomic nervous system controls things like our heartbeat and digestion; it connects body and brain so our organs can function and talk to us. When you and your child are physically and emotionally close, your autonomic systems begin to sync up, which gives you both a deep sense of wellbeing, and promotes learning. 

This deep sense of wellbeing during storytime is relaxing, which helps prepare you and your child for sleep. It also keeps us feeling close to each other, makes us want to be together more, and helps us value and look for closeness with others (it conditions positive socioemotional reflexes).

When we’re connected, it feels really good—that’s partly why connected storytime is so beneficial. And when we enjoy something, we want to do it again and again!

Expanding children’s vocabulary is absolutely beneficial for their brains; expanding their emotional vocabulary deepens their capacity for empathy, compassion, and cooperation. Storytime nurtures heart- to-heart and gut-to-gut communication, which gives kids a safe space to process their feelings with you, to see how you process your own feelings, and to learn about all different kinds of children and families.

Reach Out and Read and Nurture Science

For more than 30 years, Reach Out and Read has educated pediatricians, family doctors, and nurses about early reading. Their Next Chapter campaign is building awareness of the parent-child relationship as the foundation for all child development. This concept has been at the center of the Nurture Science Program’s research for decades, and we’re so excited about the far-reaching potential that our partnership with Reach Out and Read creates.

Thank you, Reach Out and Read, for spreading the magic of stories. You’re making connected storytime accessible to all children by putting books in the hands of parents. We’re making sure those hands are holding their little ones close during storytime. We’re excited that the 4.5 million families touched by Reach Out and Read get to experience the benefits of autonomic emotional connection while reading together.

Our longtime partner at Einhorn Collaborative, Ira Hillman, was a recent guest on Reach Out and Read’s podcast to talk about Einhorn’s and NSP’s shared focus on promoting autonomic emotional connection between parents and children—listen here. And check out Ira’s recent post on reading with his children—Reading, Relationships, and Race.