Ages and Stages: Raising a Reader
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start reading aloud to their children from birth — and with good reason: Studies show that early reading helps babies learn to speak as well as bond and interact with parents. As children get older, reading with parents is a way to feel close and connected, build vocabulary and confidence, learn about the world, and develop and pursue interests. For children of any age, daily reading at home is linked to later success in school and life.
In celebration of National Literacy Month in September, here are some ways to incorporate literacy and cultivate a love of reading from ages 0–5:
Ages 0–1: At birth, babies recognize the sound of parents’ voices and feel secure when you hold them and read aloud. Although your baby doesn’t understand the content of books in the beginning, they pick up on your physical closeness and positive focus and attention. They are learning to connect sounds and words when you read aloud, especially through repetition and rhyming. Babies love to touch and put things in their mouths: sturdy books — like board books — that babies can explore are good choices. Pointing to pictures to explain them, asking questions or just talking about what you are reading helps engage your baby. Try acting out or singing the words in a book — it’s fun for both of you!
Ages 1–3: As their vocabularies grow, toddlers engage more in reading by expressing feelings and opinions about books. Have a set time for reading a half hour each day, and allow your child to actively participate in reading aloud by asking them to choose books, turn pages, offer ideas of what might happen next, and identify favorite parts or characters. Ask your child to repeat or finish rhymes and discuss books. If your child wants to hear the same book again and again, that is fine — the predictability of their favorite book helps your child feel safe. To boost vocabulary, have your child pick a picture in a magazine and then ask them to tell you a story about it.
Ages 4–5: Reading together helps preschoolers’ vocabularies grow by leaps and bounds! As they begin to learn letters and put together sounds, preschool children can begin to sound out words. Help your child learn by identifying words and phrases, especially with books that rhyme and repeat. Encourage your child’s curiosity and learning by making regular trips to the library to find books that match their interests. The unhurried time of reading aloud is beneficial for feeling close, and continuing to read aloud every day for 30 minutes is the best way to encourage your child to love reading — and enjoy books independently in the future.
Reading and Neurobiology. Reading aloud with children from a young age has a positive, lasting effect on brain development. Studies show that reading aloud activates parts of a child’s brain. The more you read to your child, the more you help neurons grow and connect in a way that will benefit your child’s reading in the future.
Picture Books and Visual Literacy. Picture books without words offer learning benefits to children ages 0–5. Wordless books allow children to “read” and give meaning to pictures, creating their own stories and dialogue. Even after children learn to read, they encourage children to develop “visual literacy” and expand their imaginations.