When to start
You can begin reading to your child as soon as you talk to your child – in other words – from birth. However,
reading a story to a baby won’t be the same as reading to a toddler. The baby will enjoy the sound of your voice
but it will be a while before your baby understands the meaning of the story. At about 6-9 months many babies
respond to books – especially ones with pictures and simple words. They enjoy being read to and respond to the
story by getting excited or anticipating what will be on the next page. You can make simple “baby-proof ” books
from small plastic photo albums by slipping family photos or pictures from magazines into the pages and sealing
them with transparent tape. Board books are also good books for babies. Toddlers seem to especially enjoy
books with animals in them.
Why is it important to read to your children?
When you read out loud to a child, you show your child that reading brings pleasure. You and your child are
caught up in another world, enjoying the characters, how they cope with the situations they find themselves in,
and how the story resolves. Because reading is such an important skill for children to develop, being read to gives
children real experience with the written word. It helps them to see that reading is fun and is a worthwhile skill
Reading out loud stimulates your child’s imagination. You can travel to a farm and “see” the animals. You can
visit a garage and “see” the different cars and trucks, etc. Both of you can travel to places that you might never
visit in real life – imaginary worlds where animals talk or people live on other planets.
Being read to increases your child’s exposure to and awareness of language. Your child will begin to hear the
rhythms and patterns that words take as they tell a story. These experiences will help your child as he or she
learns to read. Even a young child will pick up the sounds of meaningful conversation and speak in tonal sounds
before speaking actual words.
You don’t need to worry if your child doesn’t understand every word in a story. Children often just enjoy the flow
of words and over time learn the meaning of the words in context. This is why it is so helpful to read the same
story more than once. Many children like to hear their favourite stories again and again.
Reading out loud increases vocabulary.
Let me give you an example from William Steig’s book Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride.
“Harum-scarum gusts of wind turned the leaves this way and that. Then the rain they had hoped for came,
with scattered drops as big as acorns slapping down, followed by a drubbing deluge.”
I like the words harum-scarum and drubbing deluge. My children did, too, and sometimes I would hear them using
these words as they played. They would never have used them if I hadn’t read them that story as these words
had not been a part of my vocabulary before I read them the book.
Reading out loud to your child can give both of you a shared experience that can bring you closer together. That’s
why it’s important to continue to read out loud to a child who is beginning to read by him or her self. A child
who has been read to knows that stories can bring pleasure, information, and new understanding. This makes
the work of learning to read more worthwhile. And continuing to read to your child even after they have become
proficient readers on their own continues to be important as it gives you and your child opportunities for conversations and discussions about many topics.