Ways To Read With Your Children as They Grow

Parents reading a book with their infant

Parents often ask what the best way to read to their children is. The focus of any reading activity should be on reading with and not to your children. Reading together and sharing a story is very powerful. The experience strengthens the bond with your children, builds your children’s vocabulary and language skills, supports brain development, teaches life lessons through your conversations about the characters in the stories and so much more. It is magical what a few moments spent with a book can do at each stage of life.  

According to “Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life?” by G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours  (2012), “Parental reading to children increases the child’s reading and other cognitive skills at least up to the age of 10–11.” This is an early-life intervention that is beneficial throughout their lives. The minimum recommendation is to read with your children at least three to five times each week. Every day is even better, but we know sometimes that is not possible.  

Pick a time of day when reading can become part of the routine. Your children will come to expect this cozy routine, which will support their engagement and attention. Remember that reading together is not an assessment or test and, if it seems this way, children will resist it. As children begin to read on their own, reading with a grown-up is still supremely important. Keep it fun with lots of laughter and hugs.  

Here are a few tips for each early childhood age range to help families gain the most from their reading time together:  

Infants (birth to 18 months old)  
  • Use hardboard books or cloth books, which work best. Books with one to two bright or high-contrast images on the page allow your child to identify and connect with the content.  
  • Interact with your little ones as you share a book together. Show your baby the book. Talk about the images, make eye contact and respond to your infant’s babbles and gestures. The activity will have a significant impact on your children’s brain architecture.  
  • Encourage your child to touch and hold the book. We know that mouthing the book is part of the process as well. Children learn through all of their senses. This is all good! It is the way they explore the world around them and part of the fun.  
  • Point to pictures of animals or vehicles with older infants and make sounds that your little one may repeat. Use large gestures and repeat words to keep your infant’s attention.  
  • Repeat the stories over and over again. This will help with both language and cognitive development. You may find that your young ones have a preference for a favorite book by their reactions.  

Here are three of our favorites:  

Baby Faces by Margaret Miller  

Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen  

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton  

Toddlers (18 to 36 months old)
  • Introduce longer hardboard and paperback picture books at this stage. Choose those with familiar images and some words or short sentences.  
  • Ask your little ones to point to what they see as you read. Where is the dog? Can you find the sun in the sky?  
  • Do not worry if you don’t finish a book the first time. It is easy for toddlers to get distracted. When you share the book again, review what you read before and continue. The repetition helps children with comprehension and vocabulary.  
  • Expand your questions by asking what and who questions. Respond with excitement and encouragement.  
  • Talk about who the characters are and how they might be feeling. Make faces expressing different emotions together.  

Here are three of our favorites: 

No Matter What by Debi Gliori  

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jim McElmurry  

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury  

Preschoolers (3 to 4 years old)
  • Add longer books with more words and sentences.  
  • Focus on key concepts. For example, ask your child to point to all the blue items or count the chickens on the page.  
  • Discuss how to turn the pages and follow the words from left to right.  
  • Ask your child to choose the book you will share. Having your child choose supports decision-making skills and self-expression.  
  • Point out beginning letters and make the letter-sound connections together.  

Here are three of our favorites:  

Me First by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger  

My Friend Is Sad by Mo Willems  

The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald  

Pre-K and Kindergarten (4 to 5 years old)  
  • Select early reader books to add to your child’s library.  
  • Read rhyming stories, and repeat the rhyming words together. This supports letter-sound recognition.  
  • Point out words that begin or end with the same letters, and have your child do the same.  
  • Explain new words to your child, and relate them to what your child already knows.  
  • When books follow a repetitive sequence or rhyming pattern, pause and ask your child to use the predictability and picture cues to complete the word or sentence.  

Here are three of our favorites:  

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds  

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall  

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats  

Early Elementary Years (6 to 7 years old) 
  • Encourage your child to select the books. You will soon learn what topics interest your child. The best way to build a love of reading is to begin with high-interest stories.  
  • Before you read a book, show your child the cover. Ask what your child thinks the title might be and what the story will be about.  
  • Use open-ended prompts to give children more space to talk about the story. Try saying, “Tell me what is happening” or “How do you think the character feels?”  
  • After the reading, ask your child what happened or what the key details were. Try asking, “How did the character learn his lesson?”  
  • Practice guided reading by having your child read recognized words and sound out new words. Support your child’s self-corrections.  

Here are three of our favorites: 

The Empty Pot by Demi  

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, Kelly DiPucchio and Tricia Tusa  

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires 

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