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How important is it to read to a young child?

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As parents and caregivers work hard to prepare their children for success in school—and in life—one of the most important things they can do is start reading to their child at an early age. By reading to a child, adults can help them get ready for formal education, open their mind to creativity and expose them to worlds they never could imagine on their own.

More than 80 percent of a child’s brain is formed during their first three years of life—and because of that—what children experience during this time plays a major role in how their brain develops. Attention and nurturing from a parent or caregiver support healthy brain development—and one of the best ways to engage young children is to read books together.

Never too early to read to a child

Child care experts say it’s never too soon to start reading to a child. In fact, starting to read to newborns can help them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and start reading earlier all by themselves.

At just a few months of age, an infant can look at pictures, listen to an adult’s voice, and point to objects on pages. While reading aloud, parents and caregivers can help guide their child by pointing to pictures in a book, and say the names of the various objects. By drawing attention to the pictures and associating the words with both pictures and the real-world objects, a child begins to learn the importance of language.

Typically, children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice printed words on a page. Reading books aloud to children helps stimulate their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It also helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. When the rhythm and melody of language become a part of a child's life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk.

When reading to a child, also make sure it’s a fun experience. Whether you act out stories, read with excitement or use character voices, a fun reading experience will keep kids entertained and wanting to hear more stories in the future.

Benefits of reading to a child

  1. Reading to children helps them develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills. The more a child reads, the more a child learns.
  2. Reading to children helps them develop cognitive (mental processing) abilities.
  3. Reading to children helps them develop better communication skills. In addition to the contact they have with parents and caregivers during reading time, the child begins developing useful communication skills by observing the interactions between the characters in the books.
  4. Reading to children helps them develop discipline and increased concentration. Along with reading comprehension comes a stronger self-discipline, a longer attention span, and better memory retention—all things that will serve children well while learning at school.

As a child grows older and begins reading on their own, adults can continue to read aloud to their children as it helps them feel closer to their caregivers and understand the world better. Also, when an adult takes the time to read to a child on a regular basis, it sends an important lesson to the child that reading is important and worthwhile. In addition, by reading stories that are on their interest level—but may be beyond their reading level—adults can stretch young readers' understanding and motivate them to improve their skills.

Getting a child to read alone

Reading to a child can set the stage for a lifetime love of reading. To keep the reading habit going into the future, consider some of the following tips:

  • Make books available in your home: Children who become readers usually come from homes where books and other reading materials are present throughout the house. Be sure and keep plenty of books around the house where they’re not difficult to get to. A child should be able to access their favorite books whenever they want.
  • Set a good example: Because children often follow the lead set by their parents, let them see you reading and talk about the kinds of books you liked as a child.
  • Visit your local library: Adults and caregivers should try and take a child to the library as often as possible, so they can learn to choose their own books.

By ABC Quality Team on May 4, 2021