How To Read To A Young Child

by Dorothy P. Dougherty

Your child’s world will be forever expanded and enriched if you develop his imagination and curiosity through books. When you read a book to a young child, at any age, you enhance his visual, vocabulary and listening skills as well as develop an important foundation for your child’s language development. Studies have shown that children who are read to early are more likely to be successful in school and in life. In fact, many school-age children who are good readers had parents who read, and read to them.


Hold your infant in your arms and read to him. Read the daily newspaper, your favorite novel, or even your shopping list. As he listens to your caring voice, he will begin to associate words with closeness. Although, at first, he will not understand the meaning of your words, researchers have found that babies can learn and remember the rhyme and inflections of the language spoken around them. His developing brain is learning how to process sounds and he needs a steady stream of stimuli.

When choosing books for a very young child, experts suggest simple, brightly illustrated books constructed of cloth or cardboard. To hold your child’s attention, choose books with little text that illustrate familiar objects and actions. Your baby will learn the meaning of words by hearing them repeated many times. Therefore, read the same book over and over to develop his vocabulary and comprehension. At any age, children are more likely to pay attention and learn the meaning of words when the reader uses animated gestures and different voices. Read the words and point to the pictures in an expressive way with lots of ooh’s and ahh’s.

Around two to five months, your baby may enjoy books with rhyme and repetition. It is a good time to take advantage of his growing curiosity by playing games as you read. For example, run your finger up his arm when reading or reciting, “Hickory Dickory Dock, The Mouse Ran Up the Clock.” At around nine months, encourage your child to point to the pictures of familiar objects that you name. Many children close to their first birthday enjoy books about animals, cars, trucks, and/or other children.


Between one and three years of age, your child may be working on his movement skills and sitting may not be first on his list of things to do. Therefore, choosing a time when your child is relatively calm may make reading a more pleasurable experience for both of you. Often, let him pick the book and where he wants to read it. Children usually enjoy books with colorful pictures, books that he can touch and feel, or find something hidden under a flap. Let him touch the pages and turn them only when he is ready. Let him handle the books and explore their sizes, shapes, and details by himself. This may encourage him to become an independent reader and begin to choose books on his own.

At times, your young child may enjoy talking about the pictures, rather then having you actually read the words on the page. Research findings indicate that reading a story has a greater influence on literary development when a child has an opportunity to engage in conversation about the story. As you point to the pictures, talk about them in relation to an object in your child’s environment. See the ball, your ball is under the table. Compare objects in the book with familiar objects in his environment. The boy has a red shirt. Your shirt is the same color. Point out the functions and different parts of objects and animals. Describe the colors, shapes, and sizes he sees in the illustrations.

Some children enjoy holding an object that relates to the story as you read it. While reading a book about zoo animals, give him a toy giraffe. This will help him focus on the words and develop his listening skills as he waits to hear about the giraffe. When the giraffe finally debuts in the story, you might say, “Look the giraffe is eating the leaves from the tree. Pretend your giraffe is eating.”


By age three, most children can follow a simple storyline and will understand and remember many ideas that are presented in a simple storybook. It is important to establish a special time to read as well as special places where books are kept in your home. Your child should be able to reach books and get them himself. As a special treat, fill an old large pocketbook or beach bag with books by a favorite author (Mother Goose) or theme (vehicles) your child enjoys. For easy access, place it near a rocking chair or favorite reading area.

Your young child may enjoy choosing books at the local library about experiences he has had, or is going to have; such as, a trip to the zoo, and airplane ride, or the arrival of a new sibling. Talk about the story as you are reading it or later in the day to help develop his ability to recall important information. Stress words that tell about time and cause and effect (next, before, because, since). Ask him about the characters and what was his favorite part of the story. As he begins to understand why things happen, stop before the end of the story and ask him to guess what might happen and why. You may also begin to point to words as your read to help him understand the connections between printed and spoken words.

Before or after reading a story, reinforce the concepts and vocabulary in your child’s natural environment. For example:

Before reading, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” by Laura Joffe Numeroff, bake muffins together. Eat a muffin at an appropriate time during the story.

“The Mitten” by Alvin Tresselt is a story about a group of animals that find shelter inside a lost mitten. After reading this childhood favorite, help your child discover how many of his toy animals will fit in his mitten. Talk about if his mitten holds more or less then the mitten in the story. Try it with a grown-up mitten and talk about why you need more objects to fill it.

Encourage your child to participate in reading the words. Read a few words and let him fill in the blanks. The boy is sitting on the …. At first, point to the picture, such as the swing. The next time you read the story, which may be in a few minutes if it is his favorite, try just saying the phrase with the blank and see if he can say the word without your pointing cue.

Sometimes, simply tell your child a story to inspire him to create stories of his own. It can be as long or short as time permits, told anywhere, and can be tailored to your child’s experiences. Use new words to expand his vocabulary as you tell a story about the family pet or your own favorite childhood memory. When you tell a story to a young child, you give him the opportunity to focus on and realize the power of words.


As children of readers are more likely to become readers themselves, set a good example for your child. Perhaps you are able to set aside a short time each day to read your favorite magazine, novel, or newspaper. Let your child observe you reading words aloud as you go about your daily life activities. For example, read cards and letters from friends to your child. Read the road signs and billboards as you drive. Read the labels on the cans, boxes, and jars to your child as your shop. Read the words on your shopping coupons. Let your child find the product you need by matching the word on the coupon to the words on the products. While cooking, read the recipes to your child and let him help you follow the directions.

Written by: Dorothy P. Dougherty, Linwood, NJ USA