Book Experiences focuses on all the skills that are built when parents and caregivers regularly read and talk about print with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. These shared experiences are critical for building book-related routines, encouraging children to have strong associations between books and loving moments with family members, and creating positive feelings about reading from the earliest days of a child’s life. But Book Experiences are also essential for building the types of literacy skills that set children up to read well: understanding concepts of print, letter and sound knowledge, vocabulary skills, and background knowledge.
The research is clear: reading to children regularly sets them up to be strong readers. Studies have shown that when infants are read to, they are given a literacy boost that lasts for years to come. Reading together with babies can also mean higher language and vocabulary skills before school starts. There are all sorts of ways that children benefit when parents read to them regularly, including:
- Children learn the Concepts of Print, which set them up to read. What are Concepts of Print? They include understanding that the black marks on a page are meaningful and that they are the words being read (they convey the message); that the print on a page is being read from left to right, and top to bottom; that each book has a front cover and back cover and reading begins in the front; and that the pictures go along with the words to help describe the story or topic.
- They are exposed to new vocabulary words and the types of words and language that are used in print but are not common in the language of speech. This is called academic language, and it is found in many picture books and poetry and nonfiction texts, even for the youngest children. This language of text stretches children’s vocabulary and grammar knowledge and challenges them to listen and work to understand a more formal type of speech. Understanding academic language is vital to success in middle school, high school, and college: and building this language has to happen through many exposures over time. When children are read to early, they start to accumulate academic vocabulary words and, over time, are exposed to the kinds of complex language they will need to navigate in the books they encounter as they get older. Rare and sophisticated words are more common in picture books than they are in adult speech to children; reading aloud is the way to make sure you are giving your child opportunities to build academic language all through the years.
- They build phonological awareness, the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds. When children are read rhyming books and books with alliteration and are encouraged to play with word sounds and rhymes while reading (and after!), then they are getting chances to build up the kinds of phonological skills that help children learn to read.
- They get exposed to letters, learn letter names, and begin to understand which letters/letter combinations make which sounds. Reading alphabet books, and playing and talking about letters and sounds in books is really helpful to developing both a child’s understanding for the Alphabetic Principle (the idea that letters and letter patterns make up the sounds of language), and a child’s letter/sound knowledge. Even when parents aren’t reading to their children, playing with letters and talking about letters and sounds help children be ready to read.
- They learn about text structure. In other words, they learn that stories have a certain structure and that non-fiction texts and magazines have other types of structures. They realize that stories have a beginning, middle and end, and that the pictures go along with the story. This understanding of text structures supports children as they start to read stories (and other texts) independently.
- They also build Awareness & Regulation: they practice listening attentively, persevering through difficult parts of the text, empathizing with characters, and interacting appropriately during a conversation about the story.
We know that having a positive association with reading books and having strong reading-related skills both are outcomes of being read to regularly, and will help children read more. We also know from the research that children who read more do better in school, and that strong reading skills sets children up for a lifetime of reading enjoyment. So start reading today, read regularly, and keep it up over time. It is definitely worth it — reading to children is a well-documented difference maker.
- Dunst, Simkus & Hamby, 2012. Center for Early Literacy Learning: Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development
- Cates, Carolyn; Weisleder, Adriana; Dreyer, Benard; Johnson, Matthew; Seery, Anne; Canfield, Caitlin F.; Berkule Johnson, Samantha; and Mendelsohn, Alan L. (May 2017) American Academy of Pediatrics. Early Reading Matters: Long-term Impacts of Shared Book Reading with Infants and Toddlers on Language and Literacy Outcomes
- “Two Different Communication Genres and Implications for Vocabulary Development and Learning to Read” by Dominic W. Massaro, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2015
- Mol SE, Bus AG, de Jong MT, Smeets DJ. Added value of dialogic parent-child book readings: a meta-analysis. Early Educ Dev. 2008;19(1):7–26. doi: 10.1080/10409280701838603.
- E Duursma, M Augustyn, B Zuckerman (2008) Reading aloud to children: the evidence
- Horst, J. S., Parsons, K. L., & Bryan, N. M. (2011). Get the story straight: contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooks. Frontiers in psychology, 2, 17. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00017