A common question among parents is “When should I start reading to my child?” When they are formally learning to read? When they enter preschool? When they are able to talk? Studies are showing that children benefit from daily story time much earlier than this. In fact, reading regularly to children as young as six months old improves future language, cognition, and literacy skills. It may feel silly reading a storybook to a child that seems to show no understanding of the words or pictures being presented. However, early exposure to books and being read aloud from a young age promotes a variety of important foundational language and cognition skills.
Remember, storytime does not necessarily mean reading each and every word on the page. Some of the best children’s books don’t even have words in them! Simply pointing to and describing pictures in a book is extremely beneficial in promoting early literacy skills. Far before children are able to read and recognize letters, they are learning essential skills that will later help them become successful readers and communicators.
Below are ways to encourage your infant or toddler to engage with literature and thus develop his or her communication skills:
- Orient them to books and pictures
Help your little one hold the book open as you read. Practice turning the book upside down and right side up as they explore how books open and close. Use language to describe the movement and actions (“Open”, “Close”, “Uh-oh, upside down!”) Guide their hand to illustrations. Touch and feel books are a great motivator for a child to orient to and interact with pictures.
- Use pictures to support language
Books are the perfect way to provide your child with natural visual supports while learning a language. Having both the auditory and visual input helps your child learn new words and ideas more effectively. Point to and label the pictures and describe colors and shapes as you read.
- Participation with page-turning
Help your child to turn the pages of his or her book. Board books are a great starting point that lets little fingers grasp individual pages easily without tearing. Incorporate language such as “help me,” “turn the page,” “my turn/your turn.” Move your finger over words as you read to help introduce the idea of reading left to right on each page.
- Use silly voices and sound effects to increase engagement
Infants and toddlers are attracted to exaggerated intonation and silly sounds. This will help bring their attention to the words you are saying and the language you are using. Use repetition to highlight new vocabulary. Be sure to define these new words and use them in a variety of different contexts for maximum exposure.
- Read nursery rhymes and songbooks to introduce early phonological awareness
Exposure to rhymes and books that play with sound manipulation gives your child foundational skills that will aid them when learning letter sounds and phonological awareness skills.
Lastly, be sure to enjoy this valuable one-on-one time with your little one. Every time you open a book with your child you are encouraging a lifelong love of reading that will benefit his or her cognition, language development, and future academic skills.
Interested in learning more?
Take a look at these related blogs.
Honoring a Preschooler’s Attention Span
7 Ways to Encourage A Love Of Reading In Your Preschooler
Top 10 Books For Early Learners
Cates, C. B., Weisleder, A., & Mendelsohn, A. L. (2016). Mitigating the Effects of Family Poverty on Early Child Development through Parenting Interventions in Primary Care. Academic Pediatrics, 16(3). doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2015.12.015
Coates, C., Weisleder, A., Dreyer, B., Johnson, M., Seery, A., Canfield, C., … & Alan, L. (2017). Early Reading Matters: Long-term Impacts of Shared Bookreading with In-fants and Toddlers on Language and Literacy Outcomes”. Unpublished, Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine.