Skip to main content

 

Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

Skip section navigation

The importance of reading to your child

Early brain development

By the time your child is 6 years old, about 75 percent of his or her brain is fully developed.

Even before your baby says a first word, he or she is learning about language: sounds, combination of sounds, vocabulary and the tempo and rhythm of words and phrases.

Research shows a strong connection between a child's development early in life and the success he or she will have later in life. Children who are read to, told stories and visit the library may start school better prepared to learn. A child's knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten is a strong predictor of what his or her reading ability in 10th grade will be.

The importance of reading

Reading aloud to children has been called the single most important activity for building the knowledge needed for success in reading. Reading helps your child learn new words, learn about the world, learn written language, and see the connection between spoken and written words.

You are your child's first and most important teacher. The best time to begin reading to your child is when he or she is an infant. Babies learn about spoken language when they hear family members talking, laughing and singing. They learn about written language when they hear stories and see family members reading.

Children need to learn words in order to learn

The development of language during the preschool years is critical for the future success of children as students and later as adults. A well-developed vocabulary provides the building blocks for children to become successful readers and all-around students.

To help your child learn new words and develop reading skills, you need to spend more than 1 hour each day reading and talking to your child. How much of a difference can more than 1 hour a day make by the time your child enters kindergarten?

  • An average of 2 minutes of reading or talking to your child will result in a vocabulary of fewer than 4,000 words.
  • An average of 1 hour of reading or talking to your child will result in a vocabulary of 8,000 to 10,000 words.
  • An average of more than 1 hour of reading or talking to your child will result in a vocabulary of more than 10,000 words.
  • By kindergarten, children need to know more than 10,000 words to become successful readers.

Building blocks of reading

Reading is a learned skill. By listening to you read aloud and talking about books, your child will learn the building blocks of reading. Be sure to give your child many opportunities to:

  • build spoken language by talking and listening (hearing syllables, the parts of words)
  • learn about print and books
  • learn sounds of spoken language (phonological awareness)
  • learn the letters of the alphabet
  • listen to books read aloud.

Reading tips

Read to your child every day. You can add reading to your child's bedtime routine or during other times of the day. Limit other distractions so the two of you can enjoy this special time together.

  • Make reading an enjoyable activity. Choose a comfortable place to read. Be enthusiastic about what you are reading.
  • Help your child learn as you read. Explain words your child doesn't know in a way your child will understand. Show how the pictures relate to the words. Talk about the characters' actions and feelings.
  • Ask your child questions as you read. Questions will help your child connect the story with his or her life.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the book. Ask what his or her favorite part of the story was and why. Ask your child to comment on the story and make observations.
  • Read many kinds of books to help your child begin to learn about the world around him or her. Read alphabet books, poetry or rhyming books, big books, picture books, and books that explore ideas like sharing, cooperating, and simple math or science.
  • Read your child's favorite book(s) over and over. This is helping your child notice repeated sound patterns, letters and words.

Poor reading affects health

Being able to use written information to function in society is known as literacy. Some 90 million American adults (nearly half) have lower-than-average reading skills. Low literacy negatively affects health care, costing the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $73 billion a year.

People who have a low level of literacy are more likely to have:

  • problems following directions for taking medicine
  • problems understanding hospital discharge instruction and problems filling out consent forms
  • more hospital stays, longer hospital stays and more appointments
  • fewer screening tests, vaccines and wellness check-ups.

 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, The importance of reading to your child, ped-ahc-33287; Information adapted from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, the National Institute for Literacy, the Center for Health Care Strategies and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

First published: 09/01/2004
Last updated: 08/22/2011

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts