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Story time: Why you should read to your child

When you share books with your toddler, you're helping to shape your child's future reading successes and inspire a lasting love of books.

Toddlers may be too young to tackle a Tolstoy novel, but they're old enough to begin their journey to reading.

And that's where parents can help. When you and your toddler share books together, you'll share more than just a fun experience—you'll be helping to lay the foundation for literacy later on. In fact, reading to your child may be the most important step you can take to ready your little one for future reading success.

For example, reading aloud to children helps them learn new words, recognize letters and sounds, and make connections between spoken and written language. It also teaches them a lot about books and print and how they're used, including the little things such as how to hold the book, turn the pages individually and read from left to right.

Choosing books for little ones

According to Zero to Three, good books for toddlers include those with:

  • Bright colors and engaging pictures.
  • Pictures of kids doing familiar things, like playing.
  • Only a few words per page.
  • Simple rhymes, songs or predictable text.
  • "Good-night" themes, for bedtime reading.

Also look for touch-and-feel books, animal-shaped books, sturdy board books for holding and playing with, and books about saying hello and goodbye.

Most of all, pick books that your child will enjoy.

Make it fun

When your child's early experiences with books and reading are fun and positive, they may help foster a love of reading as your child grows. Try these tips for sharing books from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three:

Create a cozy setting. Have your toddler sit on your lap or close to your side. Your child can point to the words and pictures while you share a feeling of closeness.

Liven it up. Talk like the story characters, or make up funny voices. Try your hand at making entertaining facial expressions and exciting sound effects. These things add fun to reading.

Don't force things. Right now, your tot might not want to sit still for very long, and that's OK. Let your child decide how long reading time lasts, even if it's only for a few minutes. Remember, you don't have to finish the story or read every page.

Also, let your child choose the book. It may be the same one every time, and that's fine too.

Make it interactive. Reading also is enjoyable and rewarding when you make it a shared experience. Remember, you're not simply reading to your child—he or she can be actively involved during book time. For example:

  • Run your finger along the words as you read so your child sees how the printed words carry the story.
  • Let your child hold the book and try to turn the pages.
  • Talk about the pictures in the book, and ask your child to name things or point to characters.
  • Talk about how things in the book are similar to those in your child’s life. For instance, is the child in the story getting ready for bed?
  • Ask your child to join you in saying a repeated phrase.
  • If your child asks a question, stop and answer it.

Get into a reading routine

Try to make time for reading every day. Bedtime is a great opportunity for reading, and you'll get the added benefit of helping your child relax and settle in for the night.

Here are a few more ideas for making reading part of your child’s day:

  • Keep a few books in the diaper bag and your car for reading away from home.
  • Buy some plastic books for bath-time fun.
  • Visit the library together—it's exciting for kids.

Your child's reading adventures and your involvement in the journey have only just begun. In the months and years ahead, keep reading to your child, even after your little one has learned to read.

Reviewed 10/13/2022

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.