Reading to your child: when, why, what and how?

Sharing books and stories is one of the most precious activities you can enjoy with your baby or child. Snuggling up together, poring over pictures and revelling in the rhythm of the words is loved by both parents and children. But how and when should you read with your child and, apart from bonus cuddle time, what are the benefits of reading to babies and children? 

When to read to your baby

When you read together is entirely up to you and your baby. Babies love hearing their parents’ voices and recognise them from before they are born. So speaking to and talking with your baby from Day One will reinforce their feelings of security: in this bright new world of unfamiliar, exciting things, you are their constant; their safe place. Narrating your day-to-day activities, reading the newspaper aloud and interspersing their baby babbles with words in a conversation-style will all lay the roots for language acquisition and speech development. 

Why should you read to your baby?

Putting time aside to read to your baby is invaluable. Not only will it further strengthen your bond, as your baby loves to hear you and be held by you, but it is a wonderful opportunity to bring words into their lives, ones that you don’t use every day. Books aimed at babies and toddlers are full of onomatopoeic language, and rhythmical, flowing words. They encourage you to put on voices and introduce interesting speech patterns. It’s difficult not to make your voice more sing-song, and your baby will be delighted by the sounds you make. 

It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. Don’t feel silly. Newborns won’t respond or interact with your reading but don’t be put off – they are listening. This is how they acquire language. You are starting them on their journey of words and speech development. As they get older, they will start reaching for the pages, or flaps, mirrors and textures of tactile books, helping to develop fine motor skills. If your baby reacts negatively to a book, put it aside and try again a different time so they don’t associate that book with a less than happy memory. 

Research shows that early literacy gives children an advantage in life. Whilst nothing can guarantee your child will grow up to have an independent love of reading, if you share books and words you are helping your child develop speech and language patterns. And the funny tales you read will help grow their understanding of the world as well as encouraging imaginative and creative storytelling of their own. 

How can you read to your baby?

You can read literally anything to your baby, even your work’s sales report or washing machine instructions. Turn to them when reading, and point out objects as you describe them. There are also lots of beautiful and fun books, specifically designed for young babies with colours, textures and patterns they will respond to, as well as simple language to start building their vocabulary. 

What to read to your baby?

We have compiled three lists on Bookshop.org of the best books to read to your baby when they are under six months, under one, and under two. They include our own books, Tummy Time! for newborns during tummy time, Baby Love for bedtime babies, and Baby Look! for busy, curious, wide-awake babies and toddlers.

Sharing books is for children of all ages

Even when your child starts to read by themselves, don’t stop reading to them. Not only is it proven to improve listening/reading skills and academic performance, many older children love to be read to as it guarantees one-on-one time with their parent. Listening to stories means your child can get swept up in it without having to decode new words. Don’t just take our word for it, read BookTrust’s writer in residence Smriti Halls on the magic of reading together.

Reading to older children gives you the opportunity to introduce them to books you love, such as some of the classics, as well as trying out different genres together. Non-fiction books are great to share with older children and can open up new avenues of interest, as well as sparking their curiosity. They will continue to encounter new vocabulary and new ideas that you can discuss together.

How satisfied will you feel when your child can’t wait to tell you about a fantastic book they’re reading, knowing that you might have created a reader for life?