Reading out loud regularly to your child is one of the best ways you can help them to do well at school. The more you can read to them, the better. Aim to read every day if you can.
Research has shown that reading to young children aids their brain development. The more you do in the early years, the better their brain development will be. Even babies will benefit from being read to.
Reading to children should also be fun. It should be about enjoying stories, rather than teaching your child the mechanics of how to read.
Even if you are not confident in your own reading skills, you can still make up stories, tell them stories from your childhood, or use audio books.
The benefits of reading to children
- Reading to young children helps develop their cognitive skills (such as language, literacy, numeracy and understanding) later in life.
- Reading to children helps them learn to read better themselves.
- Children who are read to frequently from an early age have larger vocabularies and better comprehension skills when they start school.
- Children who are read to frequently also have better language skills.
- Children aged 4 to 5 who are read to every day can be up to 12 months more advanced than children who are only read to occasionally.
- Children aged 4 to 5 who are read to frequently do better in their NAPLAN (National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy) scores in Year 3.
When should I start reading to my baby?
Research shows that babies benefit from being read to, even if they don't understand the words.
Reading teaches babies about communication, teaches them to listen, builds their memory, and teaches them words. The more you read to them, the more sounds they will learn to help them start to talk.
Reading to babies also helps them develop emotionally. Encouraging them to point, touch and answer questions helps develop their social and thinking skills. It also helps your baby feel close to you and to have fun.
What to read
Books for babies should have simple words and clear pictures. Babies love the sound of your voice, so you can read anything — even signs and menus.
As your baby gets bigger, choose cloth or vinyl books with bright colours, shapes and faces. You can gradually introduce books containing pictures of familiar objects and activities that your baby will recognise, like food or bath time. You can also find books for babies with mirrors, different textures and fold out flaps for them to explore.
As your child gets older, choose books with rhymes and a good rhythm, stories and plenty of pictures. Children enjoy books with repetition. For older children, look for books that will help them learn their alphabet and how to count. They will often enjoy books with characters who are the same age, books about familiar activities or their particular interests, and books that are funny.
Where can I find the right books for my child?
You can buy books from a shop, online, or borrow books from your local library or day care. Books often indicate the age they are aimed at. You can also borrow audio books from the library.
If your family is bilingual, telling your child stories in both languages will also help their education and their life experience.
Tips for reading
- Set aside a time to read every day — maybe before bedtime, although you can read at any time of the day.
- Turn off the TV or radio so your child can hear your voice.
- Cuddle your child and make reading a special time for both of you.
- Have lots of books around the house for your child to choose from.
- Read with expression, using high and low pitch, and different voices for different characters.
- Ask your child questions about the text. Get them to finish stories or sentences they know, to make animal sounds or to sing the songs.
- Don't worry if your child wants the same book over and over again — young children learn through repetition
For more information, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse, or contact your doctor about your child's development.
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Last reviewed: October 2019