10 Benefits of Reading To Children & Tips To Get Started.

Written by Aziz Shaik
Last updated on January 14, 2022

So you've heard you should be reading to your kid, but like myself, never quite understood how it helps children's development (besides learning to read).

You may also be looking to get started with this whole reading to your kid thing. You just want actionable advice without all the fluff theory.

(I mean if you're gonna spend a good chunk of time every day, you at least wanna know how it actually helps your kids and how to do it right, am I right?)

Well, that was me a few weeks ago. So I dug into all the studies, white papers, and guidance papers from reputable organizations on this topic. What you see in this post is a condensed, simplified, and actionable version of it all.

Below, you will discover real benefits and tips backed by studies and research - some you probably already knew and some that will make you go "Woah, that's neat!".

So, let’s get started!

What are the Benefits of Reading to Children?


Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty. It should be offered as a gift."

— Kate DiCamillo

Reading provides many benefits for adults and children alike. It is a way for us to consume and learn new information. It also can be a form of entertainment. Really, it can be what we make of it.

To instill in our child's life this basic yet essential life skill from the very beginning, we first need to understand the many benefits of reading. Once we understand that, then taking action happens almost by itself.

When you help your child learn to read it truly is a magical experience. This becomes only more evident as the positive impact it has on your child's life unfolds before your very eyes. They develop into capable young readers with a positive attitude towards reading, writing, and learning.

Kids Learn to Value Books and Stories


There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

— Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

When we are reading aloud to our children, we present literature as a completely different world full of new experiences and emotions. By reading aloud, we bring the words to life. We are able to present books as a form of entertainment as well as a source of knowledge.

By introducing the concept of reading from an early age, our children view this activity in a positive light. They start to view it as a norm rather than an extraneous effort or chore. This eventually cultivates a lifelong love of reading from early childhood.

Books open up doors to places where we are allowed to lose ourselves, de-stress, learn and increase our knowledge. With Americans reading fewer books than ever, instilling this essential habit from early childhood has become more important than ever.

Gallup Poll - Americans reading fewer books than ever

Their Vocabulary Expands

The more you read, the more words you know. The more words you know, the better you are able to put your thoughts into words.

Children learn new words from the conversations they have while reading books together.

When children hear stories read aloud, they become more familiar with the language found in books.

Based on a study [2], a child who has been consistently read to until the age of 5  is introduced to a whopping 1.4 million MORE words. Food for thought anytime we lose motivation to continue reading to our little ones.

By the numbers - Vocabulary boost due to reading

Language Development

Studies have shown that reading at home with children from an early age is associated with increased brain activity in areas connected with language development and literacy skills.

Children are natural learners, so they are naturally absorbing information while reading. They are discovering that sentences have a structure of subjects and verbs, words have meaning & that language can be successfully conveyed in many different ways.

An important aspect of language learning is phonological awareness - the ability to manipulate the sounds of a language. It is a key building block for reading and writing.

Rhyming and phonemes are important in early literacy development. Playing with these elements allows children to develop foundational skills for reading, writing, and spelling. Phoneme awareness can help them break words up into syllables which makes it easier to read unfamiliar words.

Cognitive Development

Reading aloud serves to support brain development in more than one way. Cognitive development refers to the way in which a child thinks, explores, and solves problems.

When kids are involved in shared book-reading, they tend to learn new vocabulary. They also practice the concept of decontextualized language (the use of language to convey knowledge to someone who has minimal experience on the subject matter).

Children learn concepts of the written word and story structure (i.e. beginning, middle, and end).

Studies have shown that those who read on a regular basis tend to have healthier brains. It's easy to understand why as it is a more complex task than a passive activity like watching TV.

Emotional Development


Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”

— Malorie Blackman

When parents read more to their children they learn the words to use to describe difficult feelings. As a result, they can communicate more effectively when those feelings arise.

Sharing a book will also give kids your perspective on the world and teach them empathy with others. They will have an opportunity to explore different cultures by the way of storytelling. This leads to a better understanding of the world around them and increased social skills.

Lastly, it can help a child de-stress (yes, they experience it too). Sitting close to a parent while sharing a book can do wonders for a stressed child.

Increased Attention Span, Focus, and Discipline

When listening to a book being read, children tend to be sitting still. They develop a longer attention span, increase their listening skills, and even exercise their memory retention skills.

One study [1] found that parents who read to their children noticed a stark difference in the quality and quantity of instructions followed by their children.

When you combine this with a regular routine, a child learns self-discipline. Before long they will be pestering you to read to them instead of you chasing after them.

In today’s world of scatter-brain distractions, regular reading gives us the perfect opportunity to slow down. It gives us permission to relax and concentrate on one thing at a time.

Better Comprehension and Communication skills

We’ve already established the language and vocab boost kids get when reading books. That is an asset they can use to better communicate with others, whether that be in verbal or written form.

In numerous studies [3] [4], children experienced improved comprehension and language complexity skills. This was bolstered by parents pausing and allowing children to discuss the events that had just occurred in the story.

Increased Creativity and Imagination


There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.”

— Walt Disney

Children are already much more creative and imaginative than adults. Why not put your child's imagination and creativity to practice by letting them visualize stories in their own creative way. It gets them thinking outside the box while sparking and stimulating curiosity on various elements of this world. It also boosts critical thinking skills as kids are constantly connecting the dots of a progressing story.

After all, the best writers of our times were avid readers as well.

Bonding

Pediatricians recommend reading together as it provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your child. It gives you both something to talk about and share opinions.

Babies especially feel more secure when they hear a familiar voice or tone - it helps them recognize and be comforted by the voice of their parent or relative.

Reading to your child is important for more than just bonding; it also provides them with a sense of intimacy and well-being. This allows them to feel close to you, and it fills them with love and attention.

Academic Performance


If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.”

— Roald Dahl

Early exposure to books & reading, particularly in the case of parents' reading to their kids, positively impacts children's language and literacy skills. Early 'readers' score better on language-themed tests later in life. [5]

Before you’re able to answer a question or solve a problem, you first need to know what it's asking for. Reading comprehension allows you to identify the different parts of the question and where important information is found. This way, you are able to find find gaps in your own knowledge and work on it. This is a key aspect to academic success regardless of the career path taken.

Actionable Tips on Reading to Your Child


Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”

— Emilie Buchwald

General Guidelines to Follow

Where to find books

  • The local library is always a great starting point.
  • You can also borrow books from friends. A thrift store is also a good option.
  • You want to find age-appropriate books, and also those that are of interest to your little one.
  • Do mix it up every now and then. We want to diversify their experiences and not silo them into a certain subject matter.

Make it a routine

  • Children need consistency and stability, so it's important to create consistent, predictable environments. Have a pre-nap or bedtime reading routine in place.
  • Characteristics of a good reading routine consist of a designated time and place (preferably a comfortable spot).
  • Soon enough story time will become the best time for you and your young child.

Remove distractions

  • Turn off the TV, radio, and set your phone on silent.
  • Set aside a time where you are completely free of other obligations so that you can give your undivided attention to them. If it's important to you, it will be important to them. When it’s important to both of you, the more you both will get out of each reading session.

Get them involved

The goal is to read with them, not to them. Get them involved by asking them to repeat words or sentences. This will vary greatly between younger children and older children. But here are some tips to get them involved…

  • Let them pick out books.
  • Encourage conversation by asking questions about what you just read. Make connections to real-life situations, especially those most relevant to them.
  • Before starting to read, flip through the book together and try to imagine what is more than likely happening in each picture. This gets them excited to actually read and puts their imagination into practice.
  • Focus on what the child is interested in. Don’t try to steer them away from what they’re doing or try to read something else instead. Children will stay engaged for longer if their interests are taken into consideration.

Make it fun!

  • Keep your interactions friendly and too instructional. Be warm and responsive with your child to make them feel at ease during a reading session.
  • You should "read with emotion & flair" to make the story come alive. This even helps children better understand what is happening as they remain engaged.  They're also able to correlate with previously experienced emotions.
  • Adjust your reading pace based on the situation in the story (i.e. slow-paced to build suspense, fast-paced to show excitement).
  • Lastly, mix it up! You don’t always have to read a book. Mix it up by flipping through and discussing previously-read stories, singing songs,  or even have them telling stories. Get them to practice their newly-acquired vocabulary and language skills!

You're never too old, too wacky, too wild to pick up a book and read to a child.”

— Anita Merina

Reading to Infants

What to Read

There are stark differences that occur between the time a child is born up to the age of 18 months. So pick out books according to your child’s age.

0-6 Months - Books without words are best here. One word per page also works or pictorial books with lots of contrast. Good options here are nursery rhymes or books with specially-made fold-outs.

7-12 Months - Look for books that have simple drawings or things they are familiar with, people doing their jobs, or common events. Soft or stiff board books with thick pages are best.

12-18 Months - For children this age, read books that feature familiar things like animals, characters, or common objects. Look for books that have great pictures with lots of detail or have a progression of simple activities. Your child is starting to be able to really enjoy them now as they are able to recall and relate.

How to Read

0-6 Months - Infants want and need your attention, so try reciting rhymes and songs that you remember by heart. When reading books to them, let them hold their favorite toy. Extra points for reading stories to them at bedtime as it helps them relax and drift off to sleep.

7-12 Months - This sequence recommended by ECLKC is perfect to start practicing with this age group:

  • Try to grab your child's attention by pointing at a colorful picture in a book. ("Look!")
  • Ask them what or who that is. ("Who's that?")
  • Wait for a response. The response could be verbal or non-verbal. If needed, answer the question yourself. ("That's a doctor!")
  • Always acknowledge a baby's response, even if they were completely off. ("Yes" or repeat their word.) If they get it wrong, correct it in a positive way. ("Yes, he does look like Daddy, but he’s a Doctor.")

12-18 Months - Continue to sit close to your baby and read to him/her, making sure to make it a pleasant, intimate experience. This will help your child associate reading with feelings of safety and security.

When you're reading to your child, try telling them what sound the letters make if they don't already know. For example, if you read the word "snake" together with your child, make a hissing noise. Kids will figure out how to connect sounds with pictures in no time!

Make noises and don't be surprised if your child joins in! You might also notice that your baby looks at the book alone and makes sounds too.

Reading to Toddlers

What to Read

Toddlers will still enjoy books that have familiar characters. They will also enjoy picture books and texts with lots of information and details. You can give them some short stories, fairy tales, info-books, and fictional works which contain a range of topics.

In terms of look and feel, you can now get children's books with actual paper pages. You still want to get picture books though but with a bump up of the number of words on a page.

How to Read

  • Let your toddler decide where she wants to sit while you read. Follow her cues.
  • Mention what's happening in the story, encourage your child to relate the events to their own experiences.
  • It's important to pause when reading aloud. This gives your child the opportunity to fill in a word or phrase. This keeps things interactive and encourages reading comprehension. This works great with repetitive & rhyming books.
  • Ask factual and open-ended questions, with more emphasis on the factual questions. (“What is she doing?”, “What is the color of the house?”, “What did you like about the story?”)

Reading to Preschool & Elementary School Kids

What to Read

At this stage, you have more options in selecting books with complex plots and even complete chapter books. Your young readers can also shift to non-fiction books, magazines, or even daily mail to get introduced to new vocabulary.

How to Read

Continue to follow the guidelines in the toddler section, but now take their lead. They may even shift to independent reading at this stage. Continue to have read-aloud sessions though. You want to continue healthy discussions to maintain and develop everything they’ve learned up to this point.

Takeaway

Benefits of reading to Children - Infographic

If there’s one thing you take away from all this, it should be to simply start reading to your kids. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be smooth. Nothing ever is when getting started.

As established in this post, it all begins at home. You have the opportunity to set a solid foundation for your child. All from the comfort of your own home with a small amount of time per day. The benefits, as seen in the studies, really do last a lifetime.

References

[1] Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading.

[2] When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap

[3] Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Preschool Children Listening to Stories

[4] The Effects of Storytelling and Story Reading on the Oral Language Complexity and Story Comprehension of Young Children

[5] Joint picture-book reading correlates of early oral language skill

Article written by Aziz Shaik
Aziz grew up taking anything and everything that he could get his hands on apart. This curiosity eventually led him down a career path in Software Engineering. Before that, he delved into other majors during his time in college ranging from Chemistry, Microbiology, and Advanced Calculus. Eventually, he found his true passion in Computer Science, though continues his love for other STEM topics by finding creative ways in teaching his kids.

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