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The Benefits and Importance of Reading to Children

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Updated
Why is reading important for children? Learn about the benefits and our recommendations.

One of the most powerful things you can do for your child is to read with them.

Reading has numerous benefits for children, including a positive effect on development, communication, and school performance.

We’ve put together why reading is so important for children, and some great book ideas to get started.


When Should You Start Reading To Children?

Even when your baby is a newborn, it’s a great time to introduce reading. Here are some of the reasons why (1):

  • It gives you another bonding opportunity for snuggles and interaction.
  • Your child will be preparing, even when they don’t know it, for reading on their own someday.
  • It can help your baby develop language skills.
  • They’ll pick up on a variety of emotions.
The benefits of reading to kids
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The Benefits of Reading to Children

Here are some of the ways your child can benefit from reading.

1. Language Neural Connections

The neural connections in the brain are fueled by listening to someone reading so your child will get a vocab boost just by hearing you read. Listening to reading is shown to increase a baby’s receptive vocabulary (2). Receptive vocabulary means the words they understand.

2. Cognitive Development

When you’re reading to them, your child will pick up on the cognitive perks — they’ll start to take in what you’re saying and they’ll learn things about numbers, colors, shapes, animals, or anything else you’re reading about.

They’ll start to understand cause and effects, and their logical thinking ability will be more developed.

3. Fosters a Strong Relationship

The family that reads together stays together. It gives you two one more way to spend time bonding. You’ll have a lot of ways already, but there’s something especially relaxing about reading time.

Because you’re actively doing something, you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else but you and your baby. When you’re reading, there’s no way you’ll be able to surf your phone — you’ll be totally engaged in the moment. That’s good news for both you and your baby in terms of bonding.

4. Simply Fun

Having fun can be a benefit all on its own. It can cut down on the stress a child feels — and yes, children can have stress too, just like adults can.

Time spent having fun can lead to better sleep, more positive feelings, and even stronger relationships (3).

5. Calming Influence

Young children aren’t exactly known for being calm — especially when you want them to be. It seems they have a knack for getting wound up right when you most want them to wind down, like at bedtime.

Reading can help them calm down so you can both get some sleep. You may want to start a half-hour before bedtime. Tuck them in, dim the lights a bit, and read to them in a softer soothing voice.

6. Improves Communication

If you want to have a close relationship with your children where you can talk about anything that’s on your mind, reading is a good place to start.

When you read to your children, you do more than just say the words printed on the page. You interact — you ask them questions, they ask you some. You discuss how the people in the book are feeling and anything else that crosses your mind or your child’s mind.

That’s how communication grows — by sharing those little moments and building trust and conversation so eventually, you’ll be able to broach those bigger subjects.

7. Better Performance in School

Even the act of reading to your child can set them up for better grades in school. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand the words you’re telling them yet. Early learning experiences like reading to your child will enhance their school performance (4).

They’ll learn to love reading or at least realize it’s important, and reading is a skill they’ll use in every subject they tackle in school.

8. Lengths Attention Span

So much of today’s world is working against our desire to help our children develop their attention spans. With video games, cell phones, and tablets, it can be hard to get a child to stick with something that takes a little more attention and dedication than they’re used to.

Reading is something that’s slower-paced than what your child is used to. And that’s a good thing in today’s click-bait world.

Pro Tip

If they are introduced at an earlier age to books and reading, it won’t be as much of a shock to their system. They’ll be used to the process and their attention spans will benefit from it.

9. Better Listeners

When your child doesn’t know how to read yet, their only clues about what’s happening in a book are the pictures they see and the words they hear you say.

You’re opening up a whole new world to them with the tale you’re spinning and they will be listening carefully, even when you don’t think they are. You’ll realize just how observant kids are someday when you’re trying to have a private conversation with your spouse or friend and suddenly realize your child is eavesdropping on every word you say!

Having that quiet time with you now will get them accustomed to listening instead of just being silent.

10. Builds Imagination

Have you ever watched a movie version of a book you’ve read and been disappointed because it wasn’t quite how you’d envisioned it when you were reading the book? That’s your imagination at work.

Your child’s imagination can be unlocked by activities such as unsupervised play and reading. They get sucked into a make-believe world and they feel like they are part of the action. They imagine how they would feel or act if they were thrust into the situations the main characters find themselves in.

And for some children, reading a book makes them imagine their own tales. Most writers were first hardcore readers before they wrote a word of their own (5).

11. Raises IQ

Reading comprehension is kind of like having a superpower. It gives you the ability to understand complicated questions.

Remember those dreaded word problems in school when you were doing math? Those ones you had to use all your concentration on just to figure out how to compute what they were asking you for? Reading comprehension made solving those possible.

The way to answer a problem correctly is to first fully understand what it’s asking, and that’s what reading comprehension can do for you.

12. Improves Critical-Thinking Skills

It’s not enough just to listen to the words of a book to improve this skill though. You and your child will have to put in more effort than that.

The key isn’t just to actively listen to the tale, your child has to attempt to understand what they are reading or hearing to get the most out of the book. Encouraging your young child to do that may seem difficult, but all you have to do to get them started is to ask questions. One of the questions, for instance, can be what the main character should do to get themselves out of the jam they might find themselves in.

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13. Helps Develop Empathy

If there is one thing this world needs more of, and one thing experts say children are losing, it’s empathy (6). Empathy is how well your child can understand someone else’s feelings.

To help develop their empathy, you can get books that will aid their ability to relate to other people and what they might be going through. There are a lot of books geared toward inclusion and how being bullied can make someone feel.

To assist with their empathy, you can ask questions while you are reading the book about how your child would feel if they were the main character. If they had a potty training accident, for instance, you can ask them if they would be sad or embarrassed.

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14. Builds Coping Skills

Seeing how other people deal with their emotions can help your child learn to handle their own. They can learn important coping skills from reading or being read to.

Point out when a character is mad, sad, or disappointed. Show them the picture in the book that allows them to see that expression on the character’s face. That will help them recognize the emotion as well as figure out ways to deal with it.

15. Helps Through Life Stages

Life stages like potty training or transitioning to kindergarten is scary stuff for a young kid. I still remember being terrified to attend kindergarten. Books can help children who are going through these stages feel braver and ready to tackle a new challenge.

Book Recommendations for Kids

When you’re looking for books for your child, you need to not just consider the type of interests they have, but also their reading level. If you find books that are too hard for them to tackle, they’ll lose interest quickly and it will add to their frustration.

Here is how you can determine if the level will be good for your child:

  • Most children’s books have the reading level listed on the front or back cover.
  • Look at how difficult the words are. If you’ve been listening to your child read, you should be able to tell if they’ll be able to handle it.
  • Use an app to help you determine the level. With apps, like Literacy Leveler, you just scan in the ISBN code on the book, and you can look up the reading level online.
  • Ask for recommendations from teachers, fellow parents, and librarians.
  • Use the Accelerated Reader website to find out the difficulty level of a book.

Good Ideas for Babies

Book Ideas for Toddlers

Looking for more ideas for your toddler? Read our in-depth guides:

Book Ideas for Preschoolers

Want more ideas for preschoolers? Check out these great reads by age group:

Book Ideas for Elementary School Children

Want more ideas for elementary school kids? Check out our guides!

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.