Babies learn to love the sound of language long before they notice printed words on a page. Reading and sharing books with children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world.

It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word.

As Speech Pathologists, one of our great hopes when working with families is that they will make reading a part of everyday family life.

Our main goal in reading with children is not to teach children to read, but to share a love of books.

Children who enjoy reading will practice reading independently and become fluent, lifelong readers. Parents can help by sharing books with their children and choosing great stories and poems to read.

As children begin a lifelong relationship with the printed word, they will grow into adults who read easily and frequently whether for business, knowledge, or pleasure.

Reading starts with talking…

Most parents know that they should read to their children. But few realise just how much talking with your children is the foundation of literacy and language success.

In 1995 an American study* recorded interactions between parents and pre-schoolers for 2 1/2 years. By age three, the differences in how many words each child had heard were significant: some children had heard over 11 million words per year; others only 3 million.

This study showed a direct link between a child’s academic performance at age 7 and the amount of words spoken in their home from birth to age three, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

The study showed that 30,000 is the “magic number” of words children need to hear each day to predict academic success.   (NB: This is the equivalent of reading Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat 18 times).

While all parents in the study used instructional language, e.g. “put that down”, but families that exceeded 30,000 words per day talked about what they were doing, commented on things they saw or heard, and read books every day.

This means the 30,000 words didn’t all have to all be new for the child, there just needed to be lots of them!

How long should I read to my child each day?

As long as you possibly can! If you read to your child for 20 minutes every day, they will hear over a million words a year – or 3,100 per day). By adding just 10 extra minutes of reading time each day you can make a big difference to how many words they hear each day.

Encouraging your preschool reader

The most important thing to remember is that reading should be an enjoyable, playful experience. Your child does not need to sit through a whole story to gain the benefits of reading with you!

Talk about what interests your child: There is no need to read a book from cover to cover – you can ignore the text, focus on the pictures, name the items you see (or make the noises) and enjoy turning pages and looking together.

Model good reading habits: Help your child understand that reading is important by letting him see you reading. Keep books that are of interest to your child in an easy place for him to reach.

Visit your local library: Let your child choose some books to take home or attend story time sessions.

Repetition:  Preschoolers love reading the same books over and over again. They enjoy the reassurance and anticipation of knowing what will happen next!

Books for early readers (12-18 Months): At this time, children are often interested in learning the names of objects and will point to and ask adults to name objects. Look for:

  • Interactive books (e.g. flaps, cut-outs, touch-and-feel books).
  • Books with simple photos and pictures of objects.
  • Illustrated songs and repetitive books.

Encouraging your school age reader

Once your child begins school, there is a big focus on learning to read. Ensure that reading remains fun at home – if children enjoy story time, have access to good books and adults who enthusiastically read books aloud to them, they will remain motivated to improve their reading skills through a love of reading itself.

Additional ways to encourage your school-age child to read are listed below:

  • Continue being a good role model: Let your child see you read!
  • Encourage your child to read on her own at home by offering varied reading materials for enjoyment, for reference and for reading together.
  • Establish a shared reading time, even if it’s only 10 minutes each day
  • Encourage family activities that require reading:  e.g. write short notes for your child to read, cook (recipe), construct (directions), or identifying a bird’s nest (reference material on Internet).
  • Give your child writing materials: Reading and writing go hand in hand. Children want to learn to write and to practice writing. If you make the materials available, your child will be more inclined to initiate their own writing activities.
  • Continue to visit the library regularly: get your child their own library card.  Choose books to read to younger siblings, encourage stories on CD/tablets for long car trips.

Do you share books with your kids everyday? What are some of their favourites? Please share in the comments below.

*Hart, Betty; Risley, Todd R. Baltimore, MD, US: Paul H Brookes Publishing Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. (1995).

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  • I love giving books as gifts and I love reading them to my little one. It is amazing to what they retain and understand. She knows if I miss a page…..


  • Wonderful positive bonding effects too.


  • Reading to your children and encouraging a love of books is so beneficial. Not only does it help them academically, but I believe it also spurs on their creativity.


  • love this article, my kids love readying and I am so happy that they do


  • this is a really great article. i am so happy to see this on here. love helping the kids learn how to read and write.


  • love these tips. just starting to bring my girl to the local library for story time and she loves it. guess i’ll have to make a time for story reading everyday and be a good role model.


  • Very nice article – plenty of useful tips.


  • This is a great article thanks Dee. Our youngest turns 3 this week, and it is so rewarding to hear her pick up a book and “read” to us. I hadn’t stopped to think how many words our kids were exposed to every day! Another favourite is watching our 9 year old reading to his little sister at bed time. The other kids read with her too, but watching those two as thick as thieves with a book is something very special, especially when I’ve already said “lights out”.


  • We did many things to encourage my son’s love of reading including – talking, singing, bath books, hard books, audio books, reading to him every night. Books that rhyme or have a common or favourite them always work. My son loved football from a very early age so I hunted high and low for any footy-related books. Now, there are many sporting type books for kids that I had hoped for many years ago. Also, reading in funny or character voices always worked a treat. It was a task my husband enjoyed sharing with our son, even though he is not an avid reader. My son is 14 and still reads every night in bed to wind down. I hope to facilitate this as long as possible.


  • I think reading with children is incredibly important.


  • commendable…. loved the read ! reading sure will make bubs lively and smart

    • Thank you! It’s my first article and it’s lovely having such nice feedback!


  • I try and read to my kids every single day and night. I recently had a bout of Laryngitis that lasted weeks and it was so hard not being able to read to them.


  • I love the reading time with my children.


  • I love reading and hope to foster this love of books with my baby girl. We are already reading the complete Mary Poppins together while she is just 3 months old


  • My children love to be read to.
    Thanks for this article


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