The Importance of Reading With Children

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Published on September 20, 2021

  • Photo of a family reading together

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The Importance of Reading With Your Children

Parents want what is best for their children. With so much information on the internet and in parenting books, it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child right from the start is to read with them.

A health article from Lisa Kanwischer, pediatric physician assistant at Bronson Primary Care Partners 

Reading is a fundamental part of learning and growing. Grab a book and help your child flourish.

Build strong vocabulary, grammar and language skills

Your child’s brain develops rapidly during the first five years of their life. Reading to children improves not only their verbal language skills, but it also impacts how they understand printed words. Listening to books being read aloud stimulates brain development. It encourages the listener to “see” in their mind what they are hearing. As the listeners become readers themselves, they tend to be better at understanding what they read. A study of 6th graders showed that children who are read to score in the 90th percentile when tested.

A few interesting facts:

  • Children who are read to tend to have larger vocabularies. Reading exposes children to more words and different words than they would hear in everyday conversations alone. 
  • A study showed that reading to your child for 20 minutes each day exposes them to approximately 1.8 million words in just one year! By 6th grade, they will have spent 851 hours being read to and reading independently.

A great way to relax

Sitting on a loved-one’s lap or snuggling close with an arm wrapped around them, a child learns to slow down and pay attention to what is right in front of them. The stress and noise of the adult reader’s day is also put on hold and all focus is on the moment. Parent and child are together, looking at the book, thinking about the words and the story. While more time is better, even a few minutes a day can have an impact. Reading can be part of the bedtime routine – brush, book, bed. Brush teeth, snuggle in bed for a book (or two), then “Good night, sweet dreams” and lights out.

The social-emotional connection

Social-emotion skill are essential to having healthy connections with other people. And reading to children is shown to improve these skills in children. Social-emotional abilities start developing at birth and continue to develop as children grow into adults. Infants and children learn these skills by interacting with adults. Young infants learn to make eye contact while interacting with others. They learn to respond to and copy facial expressions. As they grow older, they learn to get attention with sounds and gestures. Toddlers and preschoolers learn about taking turns and sharing. They learn about emotions and how to make friends. Books can help with these lessons.

Reading at different ages

  • 3-6 months: Even infants can enjoy books. At 3-6 months old, babies are starting to make sounds. They listen to the sound of the reader’s voice, beginning to learn how language works. As they get older, babies begin to have “conversations” with people who talk to them, learning to change the inflection of their voice. Babies this age prefer faces to other objects. They will watch the reader’s facial expressions while listening to their voice. At this age, babies reach for and bat at objects with their hands, learning to grab them and bring them to the center of their body and eventually, their mouth.
    • Books for this age should have interesting pictures and texture to touch. Books with pictures of faces can be the beginning of social-emotional development.
  • 6-12 months: At 6-12 months old, babies explore their world looking at and touching everything in reach. Things, including books, go into their mouths almost automatically as they learn more about their environment. Babies this age start to show more interest in books, holding them and patting the pictures on the pages. They try to copy the words that they hear and may use a few words correctly. Using repeated sounds and gestures to get attention is another social-emotional skill. Babies this age can pay attention to a book for a few minutes at a time.
    • Board books and books with water resistant pages, rhyming words, and pictures of familiar vocabulary words are ideal for this age group.
  • 12-18 months: At 12-18 months of age, babies become toddlers. They are learning to walk and then run. Books often become some of their favorite objects. They will carry these books around as preferred play toys. Toddlers fine motor skills improve, and they get better at turning pages. Eventually, toddlers can tell if a book is upside down, and will turn it right side up. They begin to imitate animal sounds. When looking at a book, they can point at pictures when asked “where is the…?” Toddlers love to be on the move, and books with actions can hold their attention. 
    • Lift-the-flap books and books that have buttons that make noise will keep children engaged, while still being able to move around. Children this age like to be around other children but don’t necessarily interact. Books with songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” allow for age appropriate social interaction when read/sung with multiple children.
  • 18-24 months: At 18-24 months old, toddlers’ language skills explode. They learn new words every day and can name picture in books when asked, “What’s that?” Kids in this age group are discovering their favorite books and will repeatedly ask for these favorites. Eventually, favorites are memorized, and the child can finish a sentence from the book when prompted. Toddlers this age may even sit and “read” the book to their other toys. They continue to like to be around other children, but they do not yet understand what others think or feel and are still learning to share.
    • Children in this age range like books with rhyming words and big, bold pictures. "My First Word" books and "Big Book of..." pack lots of words and pictures into a few pages.
  • 24-36 months: At 2-3 years old, children can choose the books they want to hear read to them. They may ask questions about the pictures and the story. If a word or sentence in a favorite book is skipped, they may “correct” they reader. They can answer questions like, “What happens next?” and can eventually tell the story in their own words. Children in this age experience a range of emotions. Books about feeling can help these sometimes-big emotions feel less scary and more manageable.
    • Books written about colors, shapes, numbers and the alphabet introduce toddlers to things they will need to know for preschool and kindergarten.

It’s been said that children spend a few years learning to read and then a lifetime reading to learn. Reading to your children helps them to do better academically, have more self-confidence, and develop social-emotional skills needed to succeed in life. It’s never too early to start reading to children. Visit your local library or book store and pick out a few options for your little ones today!

About the Author

Lisa Kanwischer is a pediatric physician assistant at Bronson Primary Care Partners on West Main in Kalamazoo. She is accepting new patients now.

Children’s comfort is important. When they are comfortable, I can better work with the family to provide the best care possible. I consider it a privilege to play a small part in the lives of my patients and their families.”