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over 3 years ago

The Importance of Reading to Children

The Importance of Reading to Children

Research has shown that the single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child 

acquire language, prepare their child for school, and instill a love of learning in their child, is to 

read to them (Russ et al., 2007). Reading to a child is one of the easiest ways to prevent future 

learning problems, and yet many people do not fully understand the enormous, positive impact 

that this simple act has on the life of a child. Across the US, just under half (47.8%) of all children 

five and under are read to everyday, which means that over 13 million children go to bed at night 

without a bedtime story. In Arizona, only 43.2% of children are reportedly read to every day (Russ 

et al., 2007). 

According to Mem Fox (2001), author of Reading Magic, reading with your child should start at 

birth. When a child is born, their brain is not completely developed and will continue to develop 

over the course of their first year of life. Reading to an infant helps create brain-pathways and lay 

the groundwork for language development. A study by Keller and Just (2009) found that when a 

child listens to someone reading, there is increased activity in the language output center in his or 

her brain as they are trying to store the spoken words into their memory. This is a crucial step in 

understanding language because children’s knowledge of the sound system of language enables 

them to move from oral to written language, understand the individual components of language, 

and develop an understanding that letters make sounds (Roberston, 2011). Thus, being read to 

reading aloud has been shown to build the kinds of language skills that are essential for later 

success in learning to read (Russ et al., 2007).

When someone reads to a child, they are exposing that child to more than just the words on the 

page; they are demonstrating proper speech patterns, the basics of how a book is read (i.e., from 

left to right, top to bottom, etc.), and the excitement that reading can bring. Research has shown 

that up to one-third of children entering kindergarten are underprepared to learn. Furthermore, 

studies indicate that a child who is a poor reader in 1st grade, will most likely remain a poor reader 

by the end of 4th grade (Juel & Leavell, 1988). Heckman (2006) found that while learning to read 

occurs throughout the school years, preparing children to read before they start school is better 

than helping them catch up later. Pre-reading skills, such as reading from left to right, turning 

pages as you read, and understanding that letters make the words that make up stories, are 

critical for emergent readers to learn prior to their first day of school.

In addition to planting the language seed and preparing a child for school, reading aloud to a child 

may do something even more important, instill a life-long love of learning and create a bond 

between the child and the individual who is reading to them (Butler, 2005). When a child is being 

read to, there are no other distractions that are taking their caregiver’s attention away. In today’s 

world where everyone is reachable at all times, it is rare for a child to have a length of time where 

they are the priority and nothing else matters. Reading to a child is a great way to connect with 

that child and build a bond around learning. One way to do that is to select books that are 

enjoyable to both the reader and the listener (Buckler, n.d.). Try reading books that you 

remember from your childhood, as these books can conjure positive memories that you can then 

pass on to the child you are reading to. If you are excited about reading to your child, your child 

will be excited to listen, and the more you do it, the easier and more fun it will become. Soon it will 

be part of your daily routine and it will be the easiest and most fun way to prepare your child for 

their future. 

With all of the information available pointing to the general importance of reading to children, what 

are the specific recommendations? As long as the reader and listener are interested in what is 

being read, it does not matter what the book is. “Even picture books and language in simple 

children’s books enhance children’s learning and vocabulary because of the conversations 

between parent and child which take place around books and stories” (Russ et al, 2007, p. 9). 

This being said, some of the best books to read to children are rhyming books because they help 

emphasize recurring patterns of sounds that are particularly helpful to the child when they begin 

to sound out words and letters (Fox, 2001). It also does not matter what language the child is