June 2001
How Best to Read to Your Child
By Beth Witt, M.A.

One of the most wonderful gifts parents can give children is a love for books. Many studies have concluded that children who are read to early are much more likely to succeed in school – and in life!


Children who regularly see their parents read, have books routinely available around their home, and have parents who began to read to them as babies develop some important abilities.

They learn to love and appreciate books – as sources of entertainment and new information.

Children’s horizons are expanded with books: They learn new vocabulary and gain ideas about how to think and behave. They learn to “walk in the shoes of others”, to look at situations from another point of view. They develop curiosity!


How can parents read effectively to their children? After all, children are changing so fast during the period from infancy to first grade.

Children do differ. Their personalities, abilities, attention spans, interests, their receptiveness to an adult with a book – all may vary. However, alert parents can learn to vary their reading styles.


Changing Interactions and Expectations
The following hints are likely to work for children who are the ages – or stages – stated. Some older or delayed preschoolers’ interests and understanding may better fit in with some of the suggestions for younger children.


The Infant and Toddler of 9 to 15 months
Babies this age like to play the “naming game." Parents often find themselves naming objects for their babies – constantly answering to “wassat? – Wassat?!”

This is a good time to introduce children to very simple books. Infants and toddlers at this age will be most receptive to “looking and listening” only briefly. You can use the book as if it were an object that does things to the toddler. For example, a truck-shaped book can be driven on the child’s arm –“Beep, beep!” A pictured puppy can nip at the child’s nose: “Puppy get nose!”

Books with a few simple pages are good to use, especially those with thickened cardboard pages – easy for stubby little fingers to try to turn. Pictures of beloved objects (teddy bears, pet dogs) and familiar home routines (bathing, eating, bedtime, playing) are most likely to interest little ones. “See Doggie! Woof, woof!” “Baby. Taking bath. Wash, wash, baby!”

Using the same books regularly – using the books as toys to play with babies, touching children’s fingers to the named pictures – can prepare tiny ones to focus their attention, however briefly, on pictures that stand for real-life things.


The Toddler of 15 to 24 Months
Children in this age range are very intent on improving their movement skills and establishing their independence. “No!” may be their favorite word. Sitting may not be a priority. Choosing a good time to read can be important if storybooks are to become a pleasant experience for parent and child. A time of relative calm in the day, such as after bath time and before the final goodnight, often works.

These little explorers like to do things to their books. The parent who is reading a story about eating out at a fast-food restaurant may wish to give the child a toy cup, a napkin, or a spoon – some object with which the child can “get into” the story: “Baby’s eating French fries. Oh, he’s got ketchup all over his face! Clean it off!” The parent can help the little one take a napkin and wipe the pictured baby’s face.

Favorite books at this stage will be asked for – and should be shared – over and over again. Books of interest to these children will have colorful pictures of events familiar in their environment: home routines, shopping, riding in a car, visiting grandparents, going to the park.

Actual “reading” will not be as much fun for children at this age as talking about the actions in the pictures: “Mama and Baby are going bye-bye. Wave to Daddy!!”

These little children also enjoy “touch and feel” books, such as Pat the Bunny.

Parent should respond to the children’s inquiries or comments in a way that lets them know the truth of what they said and/or adds information to it:

Baby: “Swing?”

Parent: “No, that’s a slide.”

Baby: “He b’ushin”

Parent: “Yes, he’s brushing his teeth!”


The 2 to 4 year old: Learning about others
These little people, having established their independence, are really eager to learn all about objects and people. They really want to know the functions of objects and the roles people play. They notice different parts of objects and animals. Reading adults can begin to describe actions in stories, linking them together in simple ways:

“Look at that messy room! These children better pick up those toys! Mama will get mad!”

“It’s a cold day! Put your coat on, Sister, because you don’t want to get cold outside!”

The adult will want to combine single words and short phrases. Providing children opportunities to “fill in the blanks” can include children in the story as well as teach them:
“Somebody say in my (chair) !”
“You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man !”

Some children will still need concrete objects to hold and relate to the story line to maintain their attention.

Most children by three can stay interested in a sequence of familiar actions for at least several pages. They will be interested as parents point to pictures and talk about parts of objects (window), functions of objects (cook with), positions of things (open, under) descriptions (dirty, round, four), and changes or emotions (wet/dry, happy/sad).

By four, most children can listen to an entire short story (such as The Three Little Pigs). They have developed a real sense of “story”: “Once upon a time, there was…..” - setting, problem, solving the problem – “…and they lived happily ever after!”

It can be really helpful to the four year old for parents to:

  • Frequently stress words that show relationships of time and cause (next, before, because, and so)

  • Combine reading with side comments (pointing to relevant objects/actions in the pictures) and involving the children in repeating the refrains: “Clomp, clomp, went the billy goat gruff!”

  • Sometimes point back and forth between printed words and pictured objects: “This is the word for cookies – see Mama baking them?”

  • Ask children questions that help them think about how events fit together: “How did he do that?” “What happened next?” Talk them through answers they can’t pull together, while pointing to clues in the pictures.

  • Give the children chances to retell the story in their own words – after they have heard it several times.


Kindergarten: Preparing to Read
It is really fun to read to 5 year olds. They understand that books have stories told in printed words. Some may not need pictures to make sense of the story. More active children, however, still benefit from pictures. Many 5 year olds can retell a story and really give the “gist” of it. They may like to draw and colour pictures about favourite stories. Some may even recognize printed words or letters that start words: “That starts with C – like my name!”

The most successful of these 5 year olds will, of course, be the long-read-to ones!

READ to your little ones!! Remember, though, book time should ALWAYS be FUN!!!!

Reproduced from “Parent Articles 2”
&Mac251; 1995 by Communication Skill Builders, a division of the Psychological Corporation (1-800-866-4446)

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