The Importance of Reading for Young Children

Learn about the benefits of reading to kids, how to encourage them, and our book recommendations for every age.

Are you hoping your child will love reading as much as you do? Or are you interested in ensuring your child enjoys reading because it was never one of your favorite things to do?

Either way, we’re here to help. We’ll give you practical tips to help you turn your child into a book lover, and we’ll let you know when the ideal time is to begin introducing your child to the joys of reading. Hint: It’s probably a lot sooner than you think!


When Should You Introduce Books?

Mother Reading to Baby

Before your baby is even born, you might receive some baby books from your guests at your baby shower. It might seem a bit premature to think about books for a newborn — after all, they can’t even support the weight of their own head yet, let alone read a book.

But, 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.

What To Expect

Obviously, since your child can’t understand your words yet, you can read out loud anything you want to — it can be a great time for you to catch up on your reading! They’ll be listening to your tone and seeing your expressions and still be experiencing the benefits.

Your baby won’t be ready for you to read War and Peace, but you can still get in some quality time. You’ll just want to make sure it isn’t a long reading session, and frankly, as a new mom, that’s a luxury you probably don’t have time for anyway. Shoot for a few minutes of reading at a time (2).

If you want to read material you’re hoping your baby will find a little more entertaining than whatever it is you would have been reading before having a baby; you can pick out some colorful board books that might attract your baby’s eye. Be prepared however, for them to pretty much ignore the book for a couple of months if you start reading to them while they’re an infant.

Pro Tip

To allow your baby to safely explore their book with touch, you should considering buying a cloth book instead of a board book. If they put that one in their mouths and start slobbering on it and chewing on it, it won’t last long. My baby tried to use my favorite baby book as a chew toy, and it wasn’t long before I had to throw it away!

Benefits of Reading to Your Baby

Mother reading to 2 children_1

It’s not surprising that reading to your child of any age will come with a host of benefits, but the number of benefits may surprise you. Reading can do so much good no matter the age. Here are some of the top 15 ways your child will reap the benefits.

1. Fires Up Their 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 (3). Receptive vocabulary means the words they understand.

2. Cognitive Development Cruises Along.

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 Between You and Your Baby.

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. It Is 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 (4).

5. It Can Be a 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. It Can Improve 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. It Can Lead to a 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 (5).

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. It Helps Them Lengthen Their 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 then 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. It Makes Them a Better Listener.

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. It Builds Their 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 (6).

11. It Raises Your Child’s 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. It 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.

13. It Helps Your Child Develop Empathy.

If there is one thing this world needs more of, and one thing experts say children are losing, it’s empathy (7). 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.

14. It Can Build Their 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. It Can Help Them 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.

Ten Tips To Encourage Reading

Father Reading to Baby

You know it’s important to read to your child and foster that love of learning in your child, but for whatever reason, you feel like your efforts are stalling. The important thing is you’re trying. With these 10 tips, you’ll get there.

1. Ask Questions.

If your child is old enough to read a book, ask them questions about what they’re reading.

Since kids aren’t always the best at providing short summaries, you might have to get ready to be tied up for a while, and don’t expect the plot to make a lot of sense the way they are explaining it. Even if you feel your eyes start to glaze over from the information overload you’re sure to get, don’t let your child see that boredom.

If your child can’t read independently yet and you’re reading to them, pause every few pages to ask a question. You can ask about the main character’s expression or actions. Just make sure you ask their opinion about something because it will help keep them engaged.

2. Read the Same Book As Your Older Child.

Book clubs are fun for a reason — hearing another person’s take on the book you’re reading is interesting. It can also be a bonding experience. You and your child might enjoy comparing notes about a book you’re both reading.

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3. Find a Variety of Age-Appropriate Reading Materials.

If you’ve been trying to get your kid hooked on reading and your attempts have been failing, you should introduce more age-appropriate books. By giving your child a lot to choose from, there’s more likely to be one that catches their eye. They just might not be interested in the ones that draw you in, and that’s ok.

But you should also make sure your child has access to age-appropriate material. If the reading level is too hard or too easy, they’ll lose interest.

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4. Gear the Books Toward Your Child’s Interests.

If you have an animal lover on your hands, put that passion to work by getting books that explore that interest — books about dogs, cats, or their other favorite animals.

Take your child to the library so he can look at all the animal books he wants.

5. Make Reading a Priority for You Too.

Monkey see, monkey do. If your child sees you reading books or magazines when you have a spare minute, they’ll want to do the same. Just 15 minutes of your time spent on reading per day can encourage your child to develop a healthy habit.

6. Don’t Rush It.

If you act like you can’t get your nightly reading session over fast enough, your child will pick up on it. It won’t matter to your child that your to-do list is a mile long, they’ll just know you’re not enjoying yourself. And if you are acting like time spent reading to them is a nuisance to you, they won’t want to do it either.

7. Make It a Habit.

It’s easy to get sidelined by other things you have to do when you’re so busy. Sometimes the first thing to be ignored if you find yourself running short on time are the non-essential things like reading to your child.

But to make reading stick for your child, you need to make it a priority. Make it a habit because before long, it will become a habit for your child too.

8. Don’t Stop Reading Their Favorite.

You might feel like you’ll go on a rampage if you have to read Green Eggs and Ham to your child one more time. After all, you’ve read it a hundred times already and every night your child brings that book to you again. You’ve done your time, right?

Nope. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if your child loves one book and wants to hear it over and over again, you should just suck it up and do it. It can be tedious for you, but before long you’ll miss those days of your child wanting to reread their favorite book repeatedly.

9. Keep Books Handy At All Times.

It’s a good idea to stash a couple books in the diaper bag. It can give you the opportunity to fit in a little reading time whenever your child needs entertainment, such as at the doctor’s office, the babysitters, or even while in the car.

Reading doesn’t have to be so formal — it can be penciled in whenever you can make it work.

10. Have Fun with It.

If you want your child to love reading, you need to show off the fun side of it. Use weird voices and lots of facial expressions to show that reading isn’t so serious. Your child will want to do it more if it gives them a chance to see your silly side.

Methods for Teaching Reading

Mother reading to infant

Learning how to read is a big deal for kids — and it is a big deal for their parents as well. It can be a source of enormous pride, but also great stress.

Parents worry whether their child is falling behind or latching onto the basics of reading as they should be. If parents seem uptight about their child’s progress, it can make their child self-conscious or more reluctant to learn to read in the first place.

Should You Force Reading Before Kindergarten?

It’s okay to try to teach your child the basics of reading before kindergarten. And, of course, they should already be well familiar with books because you should have been reading to them since they were infants.

On the other hand, if you’re worried your method and instruction will confuse the matter for your child, it’s alright to not teach them the basics of reading before they enter kindergarten. They won’t be behind their peers if they aren’t reading before the first day of school.

No matter what you decide to do about introducing reading before they begin kindergarten, there are some things pertaining to reading it will be helpful for your child to learn before that big day, including:

  • The alphabet song.
  • That books are read from left to right and front to back — you can show this by tracing the words.
  • The names of a minimum of 10 letters (8).

When Will a Child Read Independently?

Many children will be able to read independently by the conclusion of first grade. But, if your child isn’t, remember there is a wide range of normal when it comes to mastering reading. If you have concerns at this age, speak to your child’s teacher to see if they have any suggestions.

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How To Behave When Children Read

Reading is a big thrill for kids — they feel so proud and grown-up when they can read a book. You don’t want to snuff out that pride by interfering too much. Here’s what you should do:

  • It’s okay to correct a mispronounced word. Don’t laugh over their pronunciation. Just tell them how to say it and sound it out with them.
  • Tell them how proud you are and how you love to hear them read. That will encourage them to do more.
  • Listen patiently, even when you are super busy.

Common Teaching Methods

1. Phonics

Phonics is the most common way of teaching reading. It involves teaching children the link between the letters and they sounds they make.

Children will be taught letters or a combination of letters, learn the sounds they make, and put together the sounds to say the whole word.


  • It teaches word recognition.
  • It helps with a child’s spelling.


  • It doesn’t help them understand words.
  • Phonics doesn’t teach a child what the text they’re reading means (9).

2. Look and Say Method

This method is also sometimes called the whole language method. This employs the use of pattern recognition instead of separating the word into letters to teach reading.

Often, flashcards are used for these words, and the flashcards may use pictures too. The flashcards are shown to the students until they recognize the pattern of the word and remember it. This gives them a strong sight vocabulary — words they recognize immediately when they see them.


  • It can help them teach words that aren’t done phonetically.


  • The progress isn’t as fast as it is with phonics.

Teachers can’t teach children as many words as they need to learn. Proponents say they can learn only 500 sight words during first grade (10).

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Reading Troubleshooting

Learning to read can be frustrating work. And as parents of young children know, frustration can be a harsh blow to any educational effort. Here are some tips for helping your child

  • Calm your child with a cuddle when they feel defeated.
  • Remind your child of other things they didn’t think they could master, but they did.
  • Encourage them to keep trying.

Summer Reading Programs and Book Clubs

When you’re looking for another resource to interest your child in books, don’t forget the public library. Many libraries offer story hours for preschool children who are able to sit still and pay attention for a few minutes. These story hours give your child a chance to work on their reading skills while potentially making a friend at the same time.

Many libraries offer a themed summer reading program aimed at keeping school-aged children interested in reading when school is out of session. Kids can earn points and collect prizes based on how much they read.

Libraries also offer book clubs for children. If your child is a bit shy about joining activities like this, you could try to enlist one of their friends to sign up with them.

Book Recommendations By Age

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.

5 Great Picks for Babies

  1. Peek-a-Boo Forest: This book is short and sweet, just like your infant’s attention span. It is only six pages and has bright pictures and patterns to interest your baby. It has cloth pages your baby won’t be able to chew through and peek-a-boo flaps that will assist your child with hand-eye coordination.
  2. Just Like…the Animals: The bright pages include little surprises your child will love, like a mirror, sounds, and peek-a-boo features. The fabric pages are non-toxic. The book comes with a carrying handle you can attach to a car seat or stroller.
  3. Mama Loves You So: This book has sweet pictures of people and animals with their babies. The pictures are vibrant and appealing. With the sentiment of this book, you’ll love it as much as your child does.
  4. Go, Dog, Go!: This classic shows dogs riding in cars and all kinds of colors of dogs. The words are so few and simple, your baby definitely won’t be bored.
  5. Goodnight Moon: With simple illustrations and the lead character of a bunny, this book has been a family favorite for generations.

Want more ideas? Check out these great picks:

5 Book Picks for Toddlers (Ages 2 to 3)

  1. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed: Your toddler will love these mischievous monkeys who keep falling off the bed one by one and getting hurt. This is one you’ll likely have to read repeatedly to your child, and possibly sing.
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: This has been a bestseller for generations. This book will entertain your child as they watch the hungry caterpillar eat their way to their ultimate destiny.
  3. I Love You Through and Through: This book shows the unconditional love between parents and their children. Your child will love all the snuggles and kisses that are sure to accompany the reading of this book.
  4. Dr. Seuss’s ABC: This classic will help teach your child letter recognition and sounds while they’re having fun. They’ll be totally entertained and they won’t even know they’re learning.
  5. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: This book may end up driving you crazy, but your child will likely love it. It’s about letters climbing a tree in the order of the alphabet. It doesn’t sound like an epic book, but kids can’t get enough of it.

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

5 Book Picks for Preschool (Age 4-6)

  1. Green Eggs and Ham: Kids never get tired of reading Green Eggs and Ham. They love the anger of the main character as he vehemently denies he’d like the taste of green eggs and ham and then later eats his words as he discovers he really does.
  2. It’s Christmas, David: Kids love reading about troublemakers, and it seems as if David is always up to something. They’ll laugh their way through this book and will feel happy at the ending.
  3. Giraffes Can’t Dance: This book is sure to make your preschooler laugh with its funny illustrations. But they’ll appreciate how the giraffe never gives up on himself and isn’t afraid to be himself no matter what.
  4. The Night Before Preschool: Billy is so anxious about preschool that he can’t seem to go to sleep. If you have a child who is nervous about preschool, this is a great book for your child. It’ll make them feel much better about their upcoming new experience.
  5. Bunny Cakes: Bunny Cakes is a funny book starring rabbit siblings Max and Ruby. Your child may be familiar with Max and Ruby through their popular cartoon which still sometimes shows repeats on television. In this book, the siblings have different approaches about which kind of cake they’d like to bake for their Grandma.

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

5 Book Picks for Early Elementary

  1. Oh, the Places You’ll Go: This Dr. Seuss book contains a powerful message about soaring to great heights. It will be a book that has meaning throughout your student’s life, even in high school, college, and the start of their first job.
  2. Magic Tree House #1: Dinosaurs Before Dark: The adventures of Jack and Annie in this series has enthralled early elementary students for years. If your child likes this book, they’ll have a bunch more in this series to read.
  3. The Adventures of Captain Underpants: If your child hasn’t managed to find their niche of books yet, you might need something sure to get their attention. And this book can do it — you’ll likely have their interest the second they see the cover.
  4. Pirates Don’t Change Diapers: Pirates are the biggest and baddest men around, but when you factor in babysitting duty, watch them cower. And your kids will eat it up.
  5. The Chocolate Touch: To most kids, a book about a boy who can turn everything he touches into chocolate sounds like a great fantasy. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing as this book will teach.
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Want more ideas for elementary school kids? Check out our guides!

Keep Plugging Away

One thing to remember when your child is learning to read or when you’re trying to make time for reading to them is that consistency is key. It’s hard for them to place a high priority on reading if you never make time for it.

Just keeping encouraging your child to read, read to them, and explore different genres of books. Sooner or later, your child should take notice.

Did you teach your child to read before they attended school? What was your favorite book to read to your child? We’d love to hear your family’s favorites in the comments section.

Please share this with any other parent — they might not know that soon after birth is the best time to introduce children to reading!

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

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.
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