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Reading with your child

Teaching your child to read and enjoying books together from an early age is a fantastic way to encourage their understanding of words and language.

In this article we look at several aspects of how to teach your child to read:

When should I start reading to my child?

How do I pick the most appropriate books?

My child isn’t interested in books, what should I do?

My child reads at nursery, do I still need to read with them at home?

When is my child ready to learn to read themselves?

My child keeps ripping flaps off books, what should I do?

Is bedtime the best time for books?

Who is the best person to read to my little one?

Our family speaks more than one language at home, can we read in both?

Whatever your child’s age, making some time each day to enjoy books together has many advantages. Books can introduce your baby to words and scenes they are not familiar with; this can help give them a wider vocabulary as they learn to speak. There are numerous other benefits of reading to children discussed throughout this article.

Many books are written with rhyming sounds and onomatopoeia (words that sound like the thing they describe, such as oink or chirp); this will introduce your little one to a wider range of sounds, which can aid speech development while you are teaching your child to read.

As your child gets older, talking about why characters do what they do, or about the feelings they’re experiencing in different situations, is a great way of helping them develop their understanding of others.

When should I start reading to my child?

It’s never too early. Some parents read to their babies whilst in the womb; research shows that this can help babies recognise their mum's voice and the sounds of their native language which is great preparation for learning to talk.

With younger babies, follow their lead, let them turn the pages backwards if they want, or focus on a picture that has caught their attention. Looking at the pictures and describing them is just as good as reading the story.

Introducing books and stories to your baby from birth will also familiarise them with the sound of your voice and help to build reading time into the whole family's routine.

How do I pick the most appropriate books?

Babies and toddlers develop rapidly; we all remember thinking 'where did the first year go?' Books are made with the different stages of development in mind; books with high contrast images are great for babies under six months as their eyesight develops.

As children get older, introducing books with progressively more text and complex images as they progress through child language development stages should happen naturally.

My child isn’t interested in books, what should I do?

Even as adults, we have days where we like something and days where we don't. It’s important to not give up on reading to your children permanently if they seem disinterested; let them crawl or walk away and then try again at another time or on another day. You may find that your little one enjoys books more at a certain time of day, like bedtime or after a nap.

Another way to encourage little ones to read is to let them see how much you enjoy reading; your little one wants to be like you and will be encouraged to read if it looks like you’re excited by a book.

My child reads at nursery, do I still need to read with them at home?

It's great that your child gets to enjoy books and stories at nursery, but it's so important to keep reading with your child at home so that they continue to enjoy books.

When is my child ready to learn to read themselves?

Your child will usually begin to learn to read when they start primary school. Until then, you can keep reading with your child to prepare and excite them for learning to read.

My child keeps ripping flaps off books, what should I do?

Every parent experiences this with their child; little ones very rarely know their own strength! Some lift-the-flap books are made with sturdier, thicker card, and it’s probably better to choose these if your child has a tendency to rip flaps.

Is bedtime the best time for books?

Looking at a book can be a signal that it is time to calm down and have a restful period – perhaps before bedtime or a daytime nap. Other parents find that it excites their child too much at certain stages in their development.

The best time to read to your little one is up to you and them. It’s certainly good to build reading into your daily routine so that your little one can look forward to sharing a book with you, but it's also good to go with the flow and read any time you or they feel like it.

Who is the best person to read to my little one?

Anyone! Every person who reads with a baby or toddler will bring their own style and teach your little one something new. It will help them love books even more if everyone around them shows how much they love books.

Our family speaks more than one language at home, can we read in both?

Of course. You don't need specialist books to read to your little one in a second language, you can simply translate the story or make up a new one based on the book. It's great to introduce your baby to all of your family’s languages at a young age so that they practice using the sounds from both.

This article is based on content from Routes to Reading

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

There is lots of useful information and videos about reading with your child on the Routes to Reading website.

Download I CAN's free First Words Poster and stages of development poster, if you want to find out more about what to expect at different ages and stages.

You can also find lots more useful information and resources from I CAN.

Read The Psychology of Babies: How relationships support development from birth to two by Lynne Murray (published by Constable Robinson).

Take a look at the National Literacy Trust’s website which has information about early communication skills.