Purposeful Reading: Committing to daily storytime with your child

Father and mother reading to 1-year old

Reading is incredibly important to a child’s brain development. Books foster language and literacy skills, promote brain growth and help your little one make meaning of the world. The more you read aloud to your child, the larger his or her vocabulary will grow.

Purposeful reading means committing yourself to daily storytime. It means selecting books that your child enjoys and that convey useful information. It means including images and visually interesting art. And, purposeful reading means using serve-and-return interactions as you read to promote those critical new brain connections.

Reading together is also a wonderful bonding experience. Early on, your infant will be comforted by the sound of your voice while picking up the rhythm and patterns of your speech. But starting at about 6 months of age, the words and phrases will begin to take on meaning.

The Value of Rhyme

The Journal of Language and Literacy Education advises you to favor books with rhyming words for your newborn and beyond. Rhyming helps him or her distinguish between different sounds and develop an ear for language. This leads to an understanding of the role-specific sounds play in word formation.

As your child matures and becomes more adept at rhymes, he or she will be better able to notice that rhyming words often have shared letter sequences, e.g., “-at” in “cat,” “bat” and “hat.” This gives your child a considerable head start in learning to read, as he or she will be able to make more correct guesses about what a particular word might be.

Reading to an Infant

It might seem silly to read to an infant who doesn’t understand language yet, but it’s one of the most important things you can do. Physically, the part of your child’s brain responsible for speech production and language processing is highly active when you are reading to him or her. What’s more, your child will understand the meanings of words heard well before he or she begins producing words.

Make reading an interactive experience. Even though your child may not yet be able to reply verbally (and even when he or she eventually can), pause after you ask or say something, giving your little one time to respond. That response could be subtle—perhaps something as simple as “ah,” “eh” and “ugh”—gibberish that you can respond to when it’s your turn. These back-and-forth interactions are examples of conversational “serves” and “returns” according to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.

By the time a child is 6 months old, he or she is beginning to understand the meanings of words heard. This is called receptive language. When a child is about a year old, he or she will begin producing words. So, even before your little one engages in a conversation with you, he or she may understand precisely what you’re saying. Choose your words carefully.

Reading to toddlers and twos

Keep things lively and engaging when sharing a book with a naturally curious, mobile child who finds fascination at every turn. Interactivity during reading is more important than ever, so invite your little one to choose which book to read, and to turn the pages as you read. Help your child connect illustrations in the book to the words on the page. Point out things in the pictures that are mentioned in the story. Even make a game of it by inviting your child to guess what a story is about based on the pictures. As the story unfolds, ask questions such as, “What do you think will happen next?” or “How do you think (he/she) feels?” Encourage and acknowledge responses along the way.

Ready, Set, Read!

Cherish that time you spend reading to your child each day, knowing that your actions will have a lifelong impact on him or her.