When is a good time to start reading to your children? The answer is, as soon as
you can! Babies in utero can hear the outside world starting at 4-5 months, so you
can start reading aloud to your baby before he and/or she is even born. Reading
aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do to promote language
development and to encourage a love of reading. This can prime them for future school
success. You also don’t have to stop reading with or to your child once they learn
to read by themselves. Reading together can be a lifetime joy.
Reading to your young child (age 0-4) fosters their understanding of language. It
provides and introduces them to new vocabulary words. It enhances their speech and
language production. Children this age also love to hear the same stories again
and again, then to “read” it themselves from memory. This is great practice! Plus,
reading to your child is a great bonding time together.
Reading with your preschooler can be a great avenue into their own world of reading.
Furthermore, it can enhance problem-solving skills, listening skills, and foster
attention span. As you read, move beyond the words on the page to point out the
pictures, ask questions, have your child predict what will happen next, etc. These
are all great pre-reading skills to foster. Additionally, children at this age are
learning “concepts about print”: how we read left to right, how you hold a book
right side up, how you turn pages as you read. These skills are important pre-reading
As children start school they will be learning to read themselves,
if they haven’t
started reading on their own already. Reading aloud to them continues to model reading
expression and fluency and encourages them in their own reading attempts. One thing
to incorporate at this stage is “fingerpoint reading” – pointing to each word as
you read. This “points” out for the child that each word is a unique entity. (Studies
done at UC Davis by Linnea Ehri have indicated that fingerpoint reading actually helps children move into independent reading).
As children begin to read on their own, many parents feel they should no longer be the readers, but the audience.
While it is wonderful, and often necessary, to
listen and support your child as they learn to read, this doesn’t mean that reading
to them has to stop. Beginning readers often want to read or hear books that are
far above their reading levels (the “Harry Potter” books are a good example). This
is a great time to select a challenging book that they are interested in but cannot
read on their own. As you read to them, you will be continuing to foster their reading
and language skills.
So while there is no magic age at which one should start reading to his or her children,
there also is no magic age at which to stop. Sharing books aloud can continue into
adulthood! Developing a love of reading and literature is a lifelong gift that you
can give your children.