The Importance of Reading to Your Child

There are endless lifelong benefits that come from reading with your child. Reading with your child can start at any age but the research shows that the earlier you start, the better. In fact, some research suggests that reading to your child when they are in-utero is the best time to start.

 Reading is enjoyable, it’s calming. It lays the foundation for learning and underpins education. Every reading task requires comprehension. Effective comprehension is essential for learning. Reading with your child allows you to have fun practising and extending comprehension. The more children read and are read too, the more confident and competent they become.

Some of the benefits are

  • inspiring your child to have a love for language
  • helping to extend your child’s vocabulary
  • passing on a respect and appreciation for books, storytelling and the value of sharing knowledge
  • making connections between print and images
  • understanding that text has meaning
  • learn sentence structure
  • making connections between child’s own experiences and prior knowledge
  • extending imagination and creativity
  • being able to predict and anticipate
  • the skill of visualisation
  • the ability to summarise and review the meaning/ moral of the story
  • the skill of asking clever questions – literal, inferential, interpretive, critical
  • the skill of storytelling, characters, setting, plot, introduction, middle and ending

Practical tips to assist at different ages

In utero to 3 months old

  • Read out loud.
  • Read with passion.
  • Read with expression.
  • Read often.

3 months to 12 months

  • Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to read with your child.
  • Books with pictures will sustain your child’s attention for longer.
  • Point, identify and label colours and numbers in the pictures.
  • Keep the story simple. There is no need to read every word. You can simply point and name the objects in the picture or put your own words to the image.
  • Go slow, take your time, give your child time to hear what you are saying and process the information. They may start to mimic your pointing and start to make sounds to copy your words.
  • Provide a small selection of cloth or board books for your child to explore and practice turning pages.
  • Repeat the same stories. Children learn through repetition, it gives children immense joy when they can predict what is going to happen next.
  • Use gestures, expression and animation.

12 months to 2 years

  • Children can gradually and gently be offered books with thinner pages.
  • Children will often gravitate to the same books. Remember learning happens through repetition. Familiarity is comforting and the ability to predict the future provides a sense of power and control. Be prepared to read the same book may times.
  • When your child starts to show an interest in touching and turning the pages and holding the book it can be good to start to introduce board books or books with thicker pages. Remember fine motor control, and self-control is still developing so if you share a book with thin pages you can almost expect a few pages to be torn in these initial stages. If a page does get torn, try not to make too much of a fuss, gently talk about treating books with respect and the reinforce the importance of turning the pages gently and then repair the book together with sticky tape.
  • Children may want to skip pages and control the story. I allow this to happen and simply point out the parts we’ve missed. I don’t force them to spend time on every page. The most important thing for me is that they are enjoying the moment. If it is a book that we have read before I will often say in a fun voice ‘oops, I think we missed seeing……, should we go back and read about that part of the story?’ Or if the child is a little older it is a good opportunity to ask whether the child can fill-in the part that was missed using their own story telling abilities. This is a fun way to gauge comprehension.
  • Use your finger to point to the words while you are reading. Take your time. Allow for time in-between sentences for the child to mimic the words, ask questions, or make comments.
  • When the books become familiar to the child I start to ask simple questions at the end to help them process and comprehend.

2 to 5 years

  • Books can start to get longer and more complex.
  • Use books to initiate conversations about topics that are relevant. Reading a book about a certain topic that is relevant to the child can help ‘normalise’ the issue and gives the child a sense that they are not alone in their thoughts and feelings. It is sometimes easier for children to discuss their feelings through another character and de-personalise the issue.
  • Play games making up a variety of endings. Ask what could have happened if…. I find this particularly important if I am reading fairy tales to young children. For example, sleeping beauty – what would have happened if Sleeping Beauty didn’t want to be woken up or kissed?
  • Suggest role reversal in stories that may enforce certain stereotypes. Such as if it is a story where the mother is always in the kitchen, change the character to be the father.
  • Explore unconscious bias’s and invite conversation around social justice and equity. The three bears could be two mummy bears and/ or two daddy bears.
  • When introducing a new book, it can be fun to read the title, look at the cover and try to predict what the book will be about. Then you can come back to your predictions at the end and see how close you were. I find this is a great exercise to show that you cant always judge a book by its cover.

Additional tips

If children see other people reading books and enjoying the experience they are more likely to enjoy reading.

Books can be a perfect tool to provoke conversations about topics that may be challenging to initiate such as death, divorce, moving to a new house, new siblings, toileting, bed time etc.

No matter the age of the child, before I start reading a book, I always try to remember to acknowledge the author and the illustrator by name and pay them my respects. I think this is important for children to understand that people create these stories and people draw the pictures. It can be inspiring.