Why read to babies and young children?

Sharing books and stories with babies and young children is the first step in building a love of reading, and helps them develop early communication and language skills. But it is also about so much more. It is about spending time cuddled up and sharing a world together. It builds bonds with your child and develops your relationship. It can be playful and noisy or calming and relaxing.

A woman and toddler reading a picture book together

Even the youngest baby will love hearing a familiar voice and looking at bold, black and white pictures. It really is never too early to start sharing stories with your child– even before they are born.

Starting a journey

Sharing books can help to develop literacy, because it gets children excited about the power of stories and motivates them to learn to read themselves. They can also discover books about all the things they are interested in, which can open up new worlds for them.

Books can also help to build your child’s vocabulary, which will help them express themselves and understand what others are saying. The words we know help us learn to connect sounds to meaning. When children are learning to read, they will need to be able to make the leap from the words they see on the page, to sounds to meaning. A strong vocabulary can help prepare children for this. Children’s books contain around 50% more rare words than prime time television so they are a great way to build the range of words a child knows. (Hayes and Ahrens, 1988). 

Developing Language

When you come across a new word together, don’t worry! This is a chance to explain what the word means so your child can learn it. If possible, link your explanation to the pictures, or something that the child knows about. You don’t want to hold up the story with too many questions or definitions, so sometimes it’s best to talk about it at the end.

Reading books can provide a great model for language, especially when the text has a rhythm or pattern. But there are also benefits to straying from the words on the page. Studies have shown that we use even more diverse language when we tell stories in our own words. When reading books, we tend to ask fewer or more basic questions, but when we retell stories ourselves, we can link the story to the child’s experiences, ask them to tell us what happens next and help them to develop their own creativity as well as literacy and language skills.

Whether it’s a rhyming text, a story with few or even no words or a non-fiction book, sharing books with a child will give them the gifts of stories, reading, language and ideas that will last their lifetime.