Rhyme Time is Sublime ~ Preparing your Child to Read

Starting from birth, you’ve kept your child nourished, safe, and dry. But, have you prepared your child to read?

“Oh, come on!” you might be thinking. “My child isn’t even talking. Why, right now, would I even give reading a second thought?”

And I would reply, “Because there are few things more consequential in life than reading to your child.”

It’s never too early to start reading to your child. Early literacy develops because you talk with and read to your baby. The more an adult reads aloud to a child, the larger that child’s vocabulary will grow. And, even though a baby doesn’t understand words being read in the early months, they are picking up the rhythm and patterns of speech.

The benefits of rhyme

The ability to rhyme is one of the best predictors of how easily a child will learn to read. Rhyming helps a child distinguish between different sounds. And, rhyming helps a child notice patterns and sounds within words. This ear for language, called phonemic awareness, leads to an understanding of the role specific sounds play in word formation.

The role of phonemes

Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, phonemes are the building blocks of words. A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes one word (or word part) from another. Phonemes include vowel sounds and consonant sounds. For example, the word “den” is made of three phonemes—the /d/ sound, the /e/ sound, and the /n/ sound. (For those keeping count, the English language is made up of 44 phonemes.)

What to read

So, what books are best for reading to a very young child? It’s simple…books with rhyming words. As children hear more and more words, they’re better able to notice that rhyming words often have shared letter sequences. For example, cat, bat, and hat have -at in common.

By reading rhyming texts to your child now, you are preparing them to read later.

When, as learners, they come across words with shared letters, they will have a considerable head start in decoding them. That’s because they will be able to make more correct guesses about what particular words might be.

Making the most of your reading sessions

The first six months

Choose an age-appropriate book with rhyming words, e.g., “Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young” by Jack Prelutsky.

“Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young” contains more than 200 poems for every experience a young child encounters.


Start each reading session by holding your baby comfortably in your lap. Make sure the book pages are easy for you both to see. (While your little one’s vision is very limited at first, it improves over the days and weeks ahead.)

  • Begin by reading the book’s title as you point to each word.
  • On every page, point to and label things and talk about the colors in the pictures.
  • Emphasize the rhyming words as you read. For example, you might point to and say, “Frog and log are rhyming words.”
  • Stop reading as soon as you detect signs that interest has waned, e.g., your child is fussy or looks away.

The second six months

Choose an age-appropriate book with rhyming words, e.g., “Whose Toes are Those?” by Jabari Asim.

“Whose Toes are Those?” and “Whose Knees are These?” are vibrant, playful verses celebrating a beautiful brown baby’s toes and knees.


Sit beside or hold your relaxed child, making sure the book pages are easy to see.

  • Begin by reading the book’s title as you point to each word.
  • Read the story all the way through in an engaging way. Vary the tone and rhythm of your voice as you go.
  • Read the story a second time, this time emphasizing the rhyming words. Say, “As I read this book, let’s listen for rhyming words. For example, toes and those are rhyming words.”

Eventually, your child will be able to recite missing rhyming words.

How to make reading interactive

At about 6 months of age, your child begins to understand the words you’re saying. So, start thinking about making the reading experience interactive.

  • Ask your little one questions about the rhyming words as you read. For example, you might ask, “Do toes and those rhyme?” or, “Do sweet and feet rhyme?”
  • Always allow plenty of time for a “response,” even though your little one isn’t yet saying words.
  • Then, respond for your child. For example, you might say, “Yes, toes and those rhyme! Sweet and feet have a similar sound. They also rhyme.”


It’s never too soon to start preparing your child to read. You’ll be setting them on a path that leads to a happy and successful life.