The Benefits of Reading to Children (From Prenatal to Adolescence): How to Instill a Love of Reading

the benefits of reading to children

After the rush to feed your kids dinner and get them ready for bed, it’s finally your favorite part of the day: story time. Your kids are snuggled up to you as you turn the pages of their favorite storybooks before you tuck them in and say goodnight.

Reading stories is part of the bedtime routine for many families. You’ve probably heard that it’s good to read to your children, but the benefits of reading aloud may extend beyond what you realized.

“Reading aloud is important from infancy through the high school years,” according to a report from Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). Not only does reading aloud support language and literacy skills in young children, it holds benefits for kids all the way through adolescence.

Read on to learn more about how reading to children benefits kids at every age.

Getting Your Child to Love Reading

Helping your children enjoy reading is one of the most important things you can do as a parent and it’s well worth the investment of your time and energy.

Kids will learn reading skills in school, but often they come to associate reading with work, not pleasure. As a result, they lose their desire to read. And it is that desire—the curiosity and interest—that is the cornerstone to using reading and related skills successfully.

By far the most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them, and the earlier you start, the better. Even a baby of a few months can see pictures, listen to your voice, and turn cardboard pages.

Make this time together a special time when you hold your kids and share the pleasure of a story without the distractions of TV or telephones. You may be surprised to find that a well-written children’s book is often as big a delight to you as it is to the kids.

And don’t stop taking the time to read aloud once your children have learned to read for themselves. At this stage, encourage them to read to you some of the time. This shared enjoyment will continue to strengthen your children’s interest and appreciation.

Simply having books, magazines, and newspapers around your home will help children view them as part of daily life. And your example of reading frequently and enjoying it will reinforce that view.

While your children are still very small, it’s a good idea to start a home library for them, even if it’s just a shelf or two. Be sure to keep some books for little children to handle freely.

Include specially made, extra-durable books for infants, and pick paperbacks and plastic covers for kids who are older but still not quite ready for expensive hardbacks. Allowing little children to touch, smell, and even taste books will help them develop strong attachments.

How you handle books will eventually influence how your kids treat them. Children imitate, so if they see that you enjoy reading and treat books gently and with respect, it is likely that they will do the same.

When you read aloud together, choose books that you both like. If a book seems dull, put it down and find one that is appealing. There are, however, so many children’s books in print that making the best selections may seem a formidable task.

One approach is to look for award-winning books. There are two famous awards for children’s literature made each year by the American Library Association that are good indicators of quality work: the Caldecott Medal for illustration and the Newbery Medal for writing. But these are given to only two of the approximately 2,500 new children’s books published each year.

Fortunately, there is a lot of other good help available. For instance, there are lists of books recommended by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress, as well as some excellent books to guide parents in making selections.

The best help of all, though, is at your neighborhood library. If you are not familiar with the library, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The children’s librarian is trained to help you locate specific books, books that are good for reading aloud, and books on a particular subject recommended for a particular age group.

The library also has many book lists, including ones like those mentioned above and probably some published by the library itself.

In addition, your library will have several journals that regularly review children’s books, including the Horn Book and Booklist. These will give you an idea of what’s new and worth pursuing.

And there’s nothing like just browsing through the many books available at your library until you find ones that appeal to you and your kids.

If your children are school-aged, keep in mind that the school library is an excellent source for a wide variety of materials and the school librarian is knowledgeable about children’s literature. Encourage your kids to bring home books from their school library for pleasure as well as for their studies.

Benefits of prenatal reading

Believe it or not, there are benefits of reading to children before they’re even born. Reading to your baby bump could jumpstart your little one’s language skills.

Reading aloud gives unborn babies the foundation of language.

Babies can hear their mother’s voice and absorb language before they’re even born—during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, to be exact. Reading aloud to your unborn baby can set the foundation for future language development and give your little one her first lesson in speech patterns.

Benefits of reading to infants (0–12 months)

It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. Here’s how reading aloud to infants affects their early language development.

Reading aloud teaches infants the basics of books.

Your infant may have years to go before they’re reading on their own, but exposure to books at this young age gives babies a foundation for how books work. Younger infants will hit or chew on board books, and older babies will figure out how to hold the book and turn the pages.

Reading aloud forms social skills in infants.

Hearing you read with enthusiasm, such as using expressive sounds or different voices for different characters, builds emotional awareness in infants. This, along with pointing at and touching books, helps develop social skills in young babies.

Toddler (1–3 years)

It may seem like your toddler is more excited by the pictures than the words of their favorite storybook, but their mind is working harder than you may realize during your nightly story time.

Reading aloud supports basic speaking skills.

Hearing you read the words of a book reinforces your toddler’s understanding of how to pronounce and enunciate words. Reading aloud also encourages “pre-literacy,” such as when your toddler turns the page and squeals or shows excitement about the story.

Reading aloud teaches toddlers about their world.

Older toddlers will often latch onto a favorite book and be able to respond to questions about it, such as, “What’s that?” This can teach them to identify the everyday objects they see in their world, such as cars, animals and colors.

Benefits of reading to preschoolers (3–5 years)

Many preschoolers have a favorite book they request over and over again. When you read your little one Goodnight, Moon for the hundredth time, remember that they’re reaping these benefits from story time.

Reading aloud increases children’s vocabulary.

“The more adults read aloud to children, the larger their vocabularies will grow and the more they will know about the world and their place in it,” according to RIF. This is especially important for preschoolers, who are expanding their vocabularies daily and learning to identify letters and match them with sounds.

Reading aloud encourages children to read on their own.

“Children who value books are motivated to read on their own,” according to RIF. When kids hear a favorite story read in an exciting way by an adult, they’re more likely to seek out books independently. This is a big step for preschoolers who need plenty of practice to improve their budding literacy skills.

Benefits of reading to grade school children (5–12 years)

Grade-schoolers will be taught reading skills in school, but that doesn’t mean you should stop reading to them at home. These are just a few of the benefits of reading aloud to grade-schoolers.

Reading aloud increases empathy in children.

“Reading aloud lets children use their imaginations to explore people, places, times and events beyond their own experiences,” according to RIF. This exploration is a key component of children’s empathy skills. Edutopia suggests guiding children toward literature that depicts people different from themselves, which is a simple process when you regularly read to your children.

Reading aloud develops children’s advanced literacy skills.

Grade-schoolers have moved beyond the basics of reading and are delving into more complex vocabulary and sentence structure. Reading aloud can help them make the transition. “Reading aloud introduces the language of books, which differs from language heard in daily conversations. Book language is more descriptive and uses more formal grammatical structures,” according to RIF.

Benefits of reading with adolescents (13–18 years)

You may think the time for reading to your kids is at an end when they become teenagers. Think again! There are still plenty of benefits to reading to teens.

Reading aloud introduces new types of literature.

Most adults can remember high school literature assignments that made them dread reading. But just as the wrong books can turn adolescents away from reading, the right books can spark new interests. Reading aloud to your teen can introduce them to new forms of literature they may never have explored otherwise, such as poetry, biography or short story collections.

Reading aloud encourages teens to become lifelong readers.

Teens’ interest in books may start to drop off, but adults who regularly read to them serve as strong role models to keep hitting the books. “When children see adults excited about reading, they will catch their enthusiasm,” according to RIF. By consistently reading to your child through adolescence, you’re modeling a true love of books and language.

Reading to children makes a difference

Now that you know how reading to children can benefit kids at every age and stage, you may be wondering about other ways to help your child learn and grow.