What is the most optimal time/age to start book reading to our children,so that we jump start their love of reading/learning? . Should we start with infants or wait till they are toddlers?

asked 01 Dec '09, 04:12

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edited 01 Dec '09, 06:38

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I write for Little Heroes Personalized Children's Books (www.littleheroes.com), where I cover the latest developments and studies regarding reading, children's development and education.
Emi rightly pointed out that you should start to read as early as possible with your kids as it gives them significant advantages in their early language development and later reading skills. Another lessor known benefit is the boost to your child's early social skills. This is a skill which child pyschologists say are critical for your child's successful interaction in daily life.

One key thing to bear in mind though, is your expectations of how soon your child will start to actually read. There is a big trend today to push early child development and fast-track learning skills, such as reading and basic math. This is all fine, provided you take into account your child's brain development stage. Because you can't make a child learn something they are literally physically not ready for yet.

In short, girls' and boys' brains develop at a different pace in different areas, which allows them to learn certain skills earlier than others. But the pace difference is pretty big. For example, researchers have found that the areas of the brain involved in:

  • Language and fine motor skills (e.g. handwriting) mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys, whereas
  • Targetting and spatial memory mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls.

For reading, they have found that a five-year-old boy has the same development as three-year-old girl. And we all know trying to teach a three-year-old girl to read is a recipe for mutual frustration! Its a fascinating insight, which has changed my approach to reading with younger children. You can read the article here.


answered 06 Dec '09, 22:51

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Great answer! Thanks for the link. By the way, did you mean to say "three-year-old boy" in your last paragraph?

(07 Dec '09, 01:48) Scott ♦♦

@Scott - No, I meant three-year-old girl. The point I didn't make too successfully :) was because the time lag in development of language centres in a young boy's brain relative to a young girl, trying to teach a five-year-old boy to read is most likely going to be as successful as trying to teach a three-year-old girl. But the same goes for teaching maths to girls and boys. They just come into their own at different times.

(07 Dec '09, 02:17) Gillian

Ok. In the future you can use the "comment" button below your previous answer to leave discussion-like comments like this. I think you can do this on your own answer right away, but maybe it requires 50 reputation. I thought that was only to comment on other peoples' questions or answers... hmm.

(07 Dec '09, 03:02) Scott ♦♦

+1 Yes, I second that. Amazing points about language and fine motorskills and targetting and spatial memory.

(07 Dec '09, 06:04) Emi

Overall my answer would be "start as early as possible", and invest in some books that are are age appropiate. ( A library is great too of course )

We started reading the colourful playbooks together with our daughter from early on. I think at that stage the sounds of our voices and the pictures were just fun activities, then it becomes more fun as the little fingers start following yours and pointing at different items on a page. I think it also helps if you have your own books at home too, I know that our daughter was quite fond of looking at books physically. Bedtime story reading is a still one of my favourite times, because its such a nice way to end a day.

The article below summarizes my thoughts quite well. For more details on techniques and how to go about it you can read the What you can do section.

Building reading skills in children

Literacy starts at an early age; parents should begin reading to their child at six months of age. Infants learn most through sight and sound, reading facial expressions and movements. Therefore it is important to gesture, talk, smile, and sing to young children. They will eventually recognize that the words have specific meanings. Also, introduce children to books when they are babies- soft, washable books or touch and feel stories are a great way to introduce a child to reading in a way that is fun and interesting.

As infants grow into toddlers, parents should engage them in conversation about different objects, pointing out colors, names and shapes. Books with rhymes and poems help peak children's interest and also familiarize them with words and phrases. As a child begins school, parents should expand their library to include books with more words rather than pictures.

Around the age of four, children will begin to sound out words on their own. If they want to try reading themselves, encourage them. While most children are reading by the age of seven, each child begins developing reading skills at different times. Parents should not be discouraged if their children are reading at a later age- keep encouraging them and remain positive.

Knowledge about reading and writing go together; as children learn one, they are learning the other. When kids are toddlers, give them crayons and paper to write on. Drawing at an early age helps build muscle control, and soon your child will begin to write letters. Eventually, with the help of teachers and parents, children begin to learn the correct spelling of words. Therefore, reading skills are only a part of a larger learning process that progresses from talking, listening, reading and eventually to writing.


answered 01 Dec '09, 06:37

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I agree though you can start showing them books earlier than 6 months. In the first couple of months our baby was particularly fascinated by black and white books such as Black on White and I Kissed the Baby.

(01 Dec '09, 14:44) Kiesa ♦

@Kiesa :-) yes we did start quite a bit earlier than six months.

(01 Dec '09, 23:10) Emi

We started very early one as well. I agree the sooner the better. Our 14 month old now loves books.

(01 Dec '09, 23:48) Tammy ♦♦

We started reading Dr. Seuss books to our baby the first day home from the hospital. We have really enjoyed watching his reactions change over time. At first, he would just fall asleep to the sounds of the rhymes. Over time, he started looking at the pages and then reaching for the pictures. Now at almost 7 months, he often babbles while I read. Sometimes, he rolls around in the bed next to me as I'm reading and every now and then looks up and smiles. As long as he seems happy, I keep reading. I want him to know that reading is an important activity. And I feel that if I expose him to it right from the start and continue to expose him to it, he will see it as an important part of his life too.


answered 01 Dec '09, 13:34

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+1 For the last sentence :)

(01 Dec '09, 14:40) Emi

I agree with the others, it's never too early. Having said that, I wouldn't begin with Treasure Island or Oliver Twist... at infancy, my wife and I showed my little girl mostly books with pictures and single words (colors, shapes, objects, etc). At around the age of 9 months she started kindergarten and was exposed to real stories, and today at the age of two we read to her every night at bedtime.

I can't say she always sits patiently and listens... Just last night she wanted to 'read' the book by herself. She thumbed through the pages and showed me the animals in the story one by one, pointing and naming :-) Other times she listens intently, participates where needed and finishes sentences she remembers, and when the story is over she wants to hear it again.

So read to your child early and often!


answered 01 Dec '09, 06:48

Yuval's gravatar image

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+1 for appropiate encouragement!

(01 Dec '09, 07:55) Emi

It is never too soon to start reading - even if all they want to do is eat the book!

Check out Reading to your Baby from the Baby Centre - I think you'll find it answers a lot of your questions.


answered 01 Dec '09, 04:18

Kate's gravatar image

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I read to my kids while I rocked them to sleep as infants. They always had books to play with and today my 6 1/2 and 4 1/2 year olds LOVE books.


answered 01 Dec '09, 19:34

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Lisa C
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This Organization has a lot of resources that confirm what people are talking about above, with some added tips that I didn't even think about.

One of my favorite parts about parenthood is when I put my son to sleep. Since he's been home from the hospital, while I nurse him to sleep in his room, my husband reads "my son" a book. (we're on book 7 of the Chronicles of Narnia) It's a great way to relax, shows Darwin how much his Dad and I love each other and him, and it takes the boredom (that nursing for 30 minutes + can be) away. I believe that we are demonstrating how much of an intimate and comforting experience reading is for us. I don't ever intend on taking away this ritual, until he can read on his own, and would rather do that.


answered 01 Dec '09, 20:44

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Is there any time that's too early? I've read it's good for dads to start reading during the latter prenatal stages. The baby can hear before it's born, and if Dad gets in the habit of reading it can help the baby bond with his voice-print.

Regarding your specific motivation, to motivate your child as a reader, others here have better answers than mine. :-)


answered 01 Dec '09, 23:05

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Yes, I suggest reading to them in the womb. Can't hurt, right?!

(02 Dec '09, 19:35) Kurt W Leucht

We've been reading to our daughter since she was about 3 months old. She's 3 years old now, and part of the bedtime ritual is her demanding "Read A Book!" We oblige – but when we're all extra-tired we pick the shorter books ;-)

During the day, she often keeps herself busy for a little while with her books. While she isn't really reading yet (past the alphabet, but pre-reading) she has memorized some of her favorite stories and retells them to herself while turning the pages. We think she'll be an early reader – we're happy.


answered 03 Dec '09, 03:31

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Chris W. Rea
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+1 For shorter books. When we are tired we read the "Mr Men" & "Little Miss" books by Roger Hargreaves!

(05 Dec '09, 19:08) Emi
Definitely "start as early as possible". The hospital where my second daughter was born was giving away one book per baby as we left the hospital after her birth, to help start things off *really* early.

answered 02 Dec '09, 02:17

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Peter K.
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Sorry while trying to vote up your comment something weird happened?

(08 Mar '12, 00:57) Emi
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Asked: 01 Dec '09, 04:12

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Last updated: 28 Mar '12, 22:38