When is a good time to start reading to your children? The answer is, as soon as you can! Babies in utero can hear the outside world starting at 4-5 months, so you can start reading aloud to your baby before he and/or she is even born. Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do to promote language development and to encourage a love of reading. This can prime them for future school success. You also don’t have to stop reading with or to your child once they learn to read by themselves. Reading together can be a lifetime joy.
Reading to your young child (age 0-4) fosters their understanding of language. It provides and introduces them to new vocabulary words. It enhances their speech and language production. Children this age also love to hear the same stories again and again, then to “read” it themselves from memory. This is great practice! Plus, reading to your child is a great bonding time together.
Reading with your preschooler can be a great avenue into their own world of reading. Furthermore, it can enhance problem-solving skills, listening skills, and foster attention span. As you read, move beyond the words on the page to point out the pictures, ask questions, have your child predict what will happen next, etc. These are all great pre-reading skills to foster. Additionally, children at this age are learning “concepts about print”: how we read left to right, how you hold a book right side up, how you turn pages as you read. These skills are important pre-reading skills.
As children start school they will be learning to read themselves, if they haven’t started reading on their own already. Reading aloud to them continues to model reading expression and fluency and encourages them in their own reading attempts. One thing to incorporate at this stage is “fingerpoint reading” – pointing to each word as you read. This “points” out for the child that each word is a unique entity. (Studies done at UC Davis by Linnea Ehri have indicated that fingerpoint reading actually helps children move into independent reading).
As children begin to read on their own, many parents feel they should no longer be the readers, but the audience. While it is wonderful, and often necessary, to listen and support your child as they learn to read, this doesn’t mean that reading to them has to stop. Beginning readers often want to read or hear books that are far above their reading levels (the “Harry Potter” books are a good example). This is a great time to select a challenging book that they are interested in but cannot read on their own. As you read to them, you will be continuing to foster their reading and language skills.
So while there is no magic age at which one should start reading to his or her children, there also is no magic age at which to stop. Sharing books aloud can continue into adulthood! Developing a love of reading and literature is a lifelong gift that you can give your children.