The Benefits of Reading to Babies

It’s never too early or too late to start
reading to baby

Even though your baby can’t grasp a book or sound out the letters of the alphabet, it’s not too soon to introduce your little one to the magic of books.

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“Reading to babies and young children is so important,” says pediatrician Sarah Klein, MD. “It provides the building blocks for language. And it gives them the tools for forming lifelong social and emotional skills.” 

Worried that reading is one more thing you have to squeeze into your bleary-eyed day as a parent? Take heart. Getting into the reading habit doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated, Dr. Klein says. And adding books to your routine has a host of benefits for you and your baby.

The benefits of reading to children

Reading is a skill that will serve your children well in school and in life. But hearing books read aloud has benefits long before they show up for their first day of kindergarten. Those benefits include:

  • Language skills: Hearing words read aloud helps babies’ blossoming language skills really start to bloom. Reading introduces them to a greater number of words and more complex language than they might otherwise hear in day-to-day conversation.
  • Bonding: Snuggling up to read a book together signals safety, love and emotional connection, Dr. Klein says. “Having that one-on-one attention with your baby strengthens your bond.”
  • Emotional learning: Babies aren’t just looking at the pictures in their favorite books. They’re also watching you frown when a book character is frustrated or smile at the happy ending. “Your baby mimics your expressions and the sounds you make,” Dr. Klein says. “That helps with early brain development.”
  • Establishing routines: Dr. Klein says kids of all ages thrive on a routine. Reading can be a great addition to the daily schedule. If you get in the habit of reading at bedtime, for example, a book can signal to a baby that it’s time to slow down and get ready for sleep. (And anything that makes bedtime easier is worth the effort.)
  • School success: “Research has shown that about a third of kids start kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read,” says Dr. Klein. “Reading to babies and small children helps them develop those valuable skills.”

How (and what) to read to your little one

When should you start reading to your baby? According to Dr. Klein, it’s never too early, and it’s never too late. She adds that while sooner is usually better, young children can still benefit from being read to at any age.

Dr. Klein shares some tips to make reading fun and effective.

Make it daily

Read to your kiddo for at least a few minutes each day. “Try to get in as much reading as you can,” Dr. Klein says, whether it’s one longer bedtime book session or shorter reading breaks throughout the day.

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“Babies might only be interested for a few minutes. As they get older, their attention span can start to handle longer stories.”

Follow their lead

Your tot wants to turn back to look at the first page again and again? Just roll with it. Let your little one point out the pictures they like on the page or talk about what you see, even if it means you won’t get around to finishing the story. Once your child is old enough, let them choose the books you read.

Don’t expect perfection

Once your baby starts crawling and toddling, it can be challenging to get them to sit still. But even if they’re scooting around the room, your child will still benefit from hearing you read aloud.

“Don’t get frustrated if your baby isn’t sitting quietly in your lap for storytime,” Dr. Klein says. “Reading doesn’t have to be this perfect quiet moment where everyone is paying attention.”

Let them explore

“Babies need to explore their environment,” Dr. Klein says. Let them discover books on their terms — even if that means they’re holding it upside-down or drooling all over it. 

Pick the right books

Babies do well with chunky board books they can hold (and, yes, chew). They like bright colors and big pictures. As they get older, introduce books with more words to help their language development, Dr. Klein says.

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Talk about it

You’re not locked into reading the words on the page. Engage with your little listener by pointing out pictures, asking questions or speculating why those dogs are wearing hats and driving cars.   

Get ready to repeat yourself

Kids love to read the same books over and over (and over). That might drive you bananas, but the repetition helps kids learn, says Dr. Klein. So go ahead and read about that hungry caterpillar for the millionth time this week.

To break up the monotony, try to strike a deal: At bedtime, you’ll read one book your kiddo chooses and a new one that you pick.

Keep it going

“School-age kids still benefit from reading with their parents, especially as they’re trying to learn to read on their own,” Dr. Klein says. “Try reading back and forth, taking turns reading out loud to each other.”

Before you know it, your babies will be big kids who can read to themselves — and you might even miss that caterpillar and his endless appetite.

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