Want to save yourself big money on medical bills and parental leave days?

Read to your kids.

OK, that’s simplifying things a bit, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has now strongly suggested that doctors prescribe “reading together as a daily fun family activity”. It’s a position the Canadian Paediatric Society has held for some years. Basically, the better your reading and writing skills, the more likely you are to get well-paid employment, and having a better income makes it much easier to get and stay healthy. The doctors offer up lots of data, and point out the importance of literacy to national economies, too—you can read a good overview here—but it doesn’t take a hundred studies to know that we all love stories. That sharing stories is one of the oldest forms of communal entertainment there is. That reading to little kids can a be real blast, for everybody involved.

I suppose, as a science fiction writer, I’m expected to forecast that within a hundred years there’ll no longer be any books and we’ll all just passively suck up video entertainment instead. But I don’t believe that. Reading is just too good a thing to ever go away, although the future of literacy does depend on showing our kids how much fun it can be.

What’s in it for you?

For one thing, reading to your kids gives you a great chance to practice those cartoon character voices and foreign accents—you know, the ones you do while singing along to the radio in the car. Your fellow motorists have never truly appreciated them, and traffic cops can get downright hostile, but your kids will think they’re great. Or at least they’ll have a lot of fun rolling their eyes and saying adult things like, “Oh Daaad.” I used to randomly throw in a Donald Duck voice that I’d perversely refuse to do when requested. And if you take it further and “re-imagine” the story as you go (as the Hollywood producers would say), the kids get to fine-tune their persuasion skills as they beg you to “read it the right way.” The paediatricians call these parent-child bonding experiences. I call them fun. They’re even cheap—compare a trip to the library to the price of an amusement park ticket or weekly violin lessons. In case you need help getting started, there are websites galore to offer advice, like this one from Reading Rainbow.

If you want to instil a lifelong love of science fiction, try sharing some of the SF novels of the classic era once the kids get a bit older. Maybe you can’t name every different car model you pass on the way to school, but you can be the cool parent who knows about things like black holes, the three laws of robotics, and the Ringworld. Another good thing is that Clarke, Asimov, and Bradbury rarely included sex scenes that you’ll have to skip. Niven, well….

As a bonus, you just might rediscover the great stories that made you fall in love with reading. Like the best of old friends, they’re still there waiting for you.