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When you should start reading to your child

When you should start reading to your child

Posted: 26 Feb 2020

Reading with your child is a multi-faceted activity that brings immense comfort and benefit to him or her, so the sooner you start this, the better.


Research shows that regular reading aloud to a child from before the age of six months appears to be advantageous to the child's linguistic development.


Generally speaking, good literacy skills correlate to higher incomes, better health and lower risk of mental illness in adults. Since early ability to understand language leads to greater proficiency in reading later in life, reading to your children is one of the wisest investments you can make.  The work of Bronfenbrenner, the developmental psychologist most known for his ecological systems theory, showed that the quality of interaction between the family and child in the home is far more influential than external factors, such as the family's socio-economic status. Thus, no matter what one can offer a child materially, very little compares to the value of shared reading. (Niklas, Cohrssen & Tayler, 2016)

According to Niklas et al. (2016), "home literacy skills equip children to make sense of, describe and participate in the world", and the earlier children are read to, the better their rhyming ability, understanding of language and forming of concepts, compared to children who don't have the same advantage.  This better performance is also positively correlated with the development of other thinking skills, numeracy competence, memory and behaviour.  Vygotsky, who is best known for his social development theory, emphasises the beneficial impact of parents modelling literacy activities such as library visits, teaching of letters and sounds and owning books in the home.

Books build up and enrich the vocabulary offered by everyday interaction and interpretation of experiences. Reading with infants and toddlers introduces them to various sounds, rhythms, intonations and ranges of expression, which contribute to social and emotional development. It gives babies the chance to look, point, touch and answer questions and to learn about colours, numbers and shapes in a fun way.


Let us look in more detail at the type of reading best suited to each stage of infancy and toddlerhood:


0-6 months


hello baby Initially, reading with children is more about the close interaction and bonding the experience provides between you and your baby. During this activity, the infant has your complete attention and learns to associate reading with positive rewards. Reading to your child in infancy needs only to be a few minutes at a time frequently through the day. Picture books with large, simple pictures against a solid background, without words, are suitable. A good example is:

  • Hello Baby: Faces: A High Contrast Board Book by Roger Priddy



7-12 months


greensheep By now, the meaning of a few words will be grasped. Board books are appropriate because babies and toddlers tend to be quite hard on books, mouthing and pulling them. Babies will now see that pictures represent objects, and be able to make some associations between what they see in the real world and what is represented in the book. Even at this age, they will start to show preferences for certain books and value repetition, which is important, to consolidate learning. Images should be named slowly and where possible, words should be  acted out. Some good examples for this age group are:

  • Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
  • Look Look! by Peter Linenthal
  • Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Cauley
  • Wheels on the Bus by Raffi
  • Open the Barn Door by Christopher Santoro



13-18 months


mybody These books can incorporate one or two sentences per page. The more interaction that is possible, the better, such as introducing some singing of rhymes, bouncing to rhythms, animal noises and questions, such as , "what does the dog say?". Books about food, transport, animals and other babies and toddlers are suitable. Early toddlers love rhyme, rhythm and repetition. By now, they should be more confident at turning pages. Introduce a daily reading routine in a special space where the books are kept. Turn off all distractions, such as the TV, so that you can focus on the book, and allow the child to choose a book. Perhaps read one favourite book and one new or different story each day. Point out the physical parts of the book and look carefully at the front and back covers together. Read slowly and clearly, and, depending on your child's ability, you can ask them to repeat certain words or phrases. Great examples of books for this age are:

  • Hello, World! My Body by Jill McDonald
  • Where's Spot by Eric Hill
  • Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
  • Choo choo clickety clack by Margaret Mayo
  • The Tickle Book ( a lift-the flap book) by Ian Whybrow & Alex Scheffler



19-24 months


caterpillar From 18 months, toddlers are learning new words very quickly and may be able to point out certain objects. At this stage new emotions are being experienced and your toddler might be able to tell you that he or she is sad. They might show affection by giving you a kiss or hugging a doll, which reflects development of empathy and can be boosted through the content being read. Their imaginations are becoming very active now, so it is helpful for toddlers to hear stories about other children and how they faced their fears and challenges such as large dogs or learning how to use the potty. Suitable books at this stage are:

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin & Eric Carle
  • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney


By this stage, children are well on their way to a lifelong appreciation of books, stories and language, as well as a habit that, if consistently reinforced, will inform, educate and entertain them for the rest of their lives. 

We have some lovely stories you can use to download and read to your child from Grade R-Grade 3 on the www.e-classroom.co.za website. 




Balmain, M. (2019). Age-by-Age Guide to Reading to Your Baby. Retrieved 24 February 2020, from https://www.parents.com/baby/development/intellectual/age-by-age-guide-to-reading-to-your-baby/

Lewis, K. (2020). Reading Books to Babies (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved 24 February 2020, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/reading-babies.html

Niklas, F., Cohrssen, C., & Tayler, C. (2016). The Sooner, the Better. SAGE Open, 6(4), 215824401667271. doi: 10.1177/2158244016672715

PenguinRandomHouse.com. (2020). Children's Books Books | Penguin Random House. Retrieved 24 February 2020, from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/childrens

Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels


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