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Reading to your child

7-minute read

Key facts:

  • Reading to your child from a young age can stimulate brain development, while at the same time strengthen the parent-child relationship.
  • Your baby will benefit from being read to, even if they are too young to understand.
  • As your baby grows, you can gradually introduce more complex stories.
  • Reading with young children is about having fun together enjoying stories and books; include lots of conversation, songs and play.
  • Set aside a time to read every day; this may be before bedtime, although you can read at any time of the day.

Why is important to read aloud to children?

Reading to your child from an early age is a great way to bond with your baby. Reading out loud to your child helps develop a love of books, which not only helps them develop language skills, but is great fun, too.

Even if you are not confident in your own reading skills, you can still make up stories, tell them stories from your childhood, or listen to audio books with your child.

Reading to your child from a young age can stimulate brain development, while at the same time, strengthen the parent-child relationship. This builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills. Infants begin to benefit from regular reading as early as 8 months.

Reading can help develop literacy and communication skills, including:

  • oral language
  • vocabulary
  • speech patterns
  • alphabet knowledge

Research has shown that toddlers whose parents read to them every day had higher average reading scores in Year 3, than children whose parents read to them less frequently.

In addition to reading from books, there are other activities can help you develop your child’s skills, including:

  • singing
  • nursery rhymes
  • conversations
  • oral storytelling

There are many benefits to reading out loud to your baby or young child:

  • Reading helps your child make connections between the words they hear and their meanings.
  • Listening to you read provides pre-reading skills that help children becoming independent readers in the future.
  • Reading out loud can help you teach your child how to communicate: how to speak, listen, and read.
  • Reading to your child exposes them to new words, expands their vocabulary, improves memory, and allows them to practise listening skills.
  • Reading helps your child develop critical thinking, as well as their imagination.
  • Pointing to the words as you read them out loud from story books also helps your child develop basic reading concepts such as following the words from the left to right side of a page.

When should I start reading to my baby?

Your baby will benefit from being read to, even if they are too young to understand.

Don’t worry if you can’t get through a whole book. When you read with young children, it’s more to do with interacting and talking together, than with them sitting still and listening. Have fun together enjoying stories and books, and include lots of conversation, songs and play.

Keep your baby interested by changing your voice to sound out characters or animals in the stories you read. Add in actions, or facial expressions that reflect what you are reading. This will help keep your baby engaged and help them understand the meaning of what you are reading.

What books should I read to my baby?

You can start with board books. Books that incorporate touch and texture are ideal.

Choose books that you enjoy reading. It doesn't matter if you read the same book over and over again, or a different book each day. Incorporate movement and actions that go along with the story. For example, when reading 'Humpty Dumpty' pretend to fall with your little one at the right time. They will soon come to anticipate this movement and be really excited about it.

Your child might develop a group of favourite books and will want you to read them again and again. This can be a little boring for you, but it's important. Repetition helps children learn the meaning of words, which is vital for language development.

As your child becomes older, they will want books that actually tell a story and have an ending that makes sense. Books help to develop the toddler's attention span. They contribute to children forming a rich vocabulary and verbal skills.

What books should I read my older child?

As your baby grows, you can gradually introduce more complex books:

Early communicators (up to 18 months)

  • books that are light and sturdy so your baby can hold them
  • pages with colourful pictures of images that are familiar to your baby
  • books with texture ,flaps, cut-outs, puppets, mirrors, rattles
  • stories with repetition, rhyme and rhythm
  • stories that your baby can relate to

Early language users (1 - 2 years)

  • stories that include a beginning, middle and an end
  • books with characters — people, animals, toys
  • stories that are not too long or detailed, but interesting
  • stories with catchy phrases children can join in with
  • stories with opportunities for your toddler to predict what will happen next
  • books that introduce concepts like colours, numbers, shapes, funny rhymes, poems or songs
  • books with pictures or photographs of items that your child has a particular interest in

Language and emergent literacy learners (2.5 - 5 years)

  • books with longer and more detailed stories
  • books with more complex ideas, such as feelings, characters, or challenges
  • longer rhymes, poems or songs

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, or swap books with friends who have children of a similar age to your children.

If your family is bilingual, tell your child stories in both languages to help their education and enhance their life experience.

Tips for reading

  • Set aside a time to read every day — this may be 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 — make it fun.
  • Ask your child questions about the text. Encourage 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.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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