Reading's benefits are more than a fairy tale for kids

Reading to and with children before bedtime has many benefits. And if the child has to spend time away from home, that habit will help make that event less stressful.

Staying a night away from home can be a nerve-wracking experience for a child. But for children completing sleep studies at UNC, a good night’s sleep is a must. Danielle Dixon, parent representative for the NC Children’s Airway Center board, worked with others to help the patients completing sleep studies feel more at home – starting with a bedtime story.

“UNC really wanted input from parents and families to make the facility better,” Dixon said. “As part of the process, I tried to come up with ideas for how to make the rooms more inviting and more like home for both the parents and the children. One of the big things we came up with was a more formal bedtime reading program.”

Reading aloud from an early age is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to language development. It builds word-sound awareness in children, which is a potent predictor of reading success, according to the evidence-based literacy organization, Reach Out and Read.

Now, thanks to the generosity of others, children can select an age-appropriate book to read – and take home – as part of their sleep study.Through reading, parents are now more actively involved in the process. Previously, clinicians conducted much of the prep work. Now, parents can read to their children before the sleep study, helping them to relax and feel more at home.  

“In our family, reading is a big part of the bedtime routine, so it seemed only natural that we make it a more prominent part of what the Center offers for families,” Dixon said. “My daughter is now 7, and she really enjoys reading on her own – I think a lot of that came from all the reading we did with her before bed and throughout the day when she was younger.”

To show families how easy it is to incorporate reading into a bedtime routine, Dixon went home and did a mock sleep study with her daughter.

“We took some photos to help families see that it only takes a few extra minutes a day to establish what has the potential to be a great life-long habit,” Dixon said.

The center re-opened in the summer of 2015 with a mix of books for all ages. Children also now receive backpacks that they can pack with things from home, and the pillowcases and quilts provided are all donated by volunteers.

“The books, backpacks and bedding are meant to provide a more comfortable, less hospital-like experience for our patients,” said Ken Steenson, MSW from UNC Children’s. “Since these kids are spending the night in the hospital, reading has become a primary way to help them fall asleep. If mom and dad can read to the child and put them off to sleep, then the staff can successfully move ahead with the sleep study. Having parents provide input into what the Center should be was invaluable.”

Many of the books were donated and Steenson says that more are always needed. For more information on how you can help or donate books, please contact X.

The North Carolina Children’s Airway Center is one of the few pediatric airway centers nationwide. The Center provides an individualized, coordinated approach to each patient offering a full range of pediatric medical and surgical services, including anesthesia, radiology, ICU care, feeding and swallowing, sleep evaluation, nutrition, tracheostomy care, social work, respiratory therapy, speech and communication. Danielle Dixon is a parent representative to the NC Airway Center Board. Her daughter has received numerous treatments at UNC Children’s over the years. She and her family live in Fayetteville.