Tips for Reading with Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

From the moment they are born, children begin to learn about language. Children’s language skills progress from listening to and gradually understanding what words mean, to learning to talk, first by saying a few words and later learning to speak in complex sentences. Reading to and with children is a great way to promote early language development and pre-reading skills.

We’ve pulled a few tips from Intellectual Development: Connecting Science and Practice in Early Childhood Settings to help you make the most of reading time with children.

Reading with Infants

  • Provide cloth or vinyl books the infant can grasp and mouth.
  • Choose books with simple illustrations of familiar objects.
  • Sit with the infant in your lap.
  • Use an expressive voice.
  • Use books as part of a routine, such as before sleep.
  • Label the objects, people, and actions in the book.
  • Read nursery rhymes and poems. Infants are draw to their lilting rhythms.
  • Stop when the infant loses interest.

Reading with Toddlers

  • Provide sturdy board books that can be handled by the child.
  • Sit with the toddler in your lap or sitting next to you. Reading individually or to only two or three toddlers at a time works best.
  • Use books with simple text and illustrations or photos.
  • Focus on talking about the pictures rather than reading the whole book from the beginning to end.
  • Point to the pictures and describe what is happening.
  • As the child to point out familiar objects.
  • Point to pictures and ask the child to name things.
  • Follow the child’s interest in the book, letting the child turn pages, go forward and back, open and close, and change books.
  • Expect to read favorite books over and over. With a familiar book, you can begin to read a sentence and sometimes the child can finish it for you.
  • Stop when the child loses interest.

Interactive Reading with Preschoolers

  • Ask questions before and while reading the book about what the book might be about, what might happen next, how characters feel, or what they are doing and why.
  • Pause for children to fill in the next word and to join in with repeated phrases.
  • Provide actions children can do along with the story.
  • Highlight or explain new words.
  • Connect books to other classroom activities: read books about gardening when planting seeds (check out Early Sprouts and Hollyhocks and Honeybees for great classroom gardening curriculum ideas!), put out books about buildings or vehicles in the block area, or read a book about food before a cooking activity.
  • Provide props so children can act out the story afterward.
  • Read books to discuss new ideas and experiences or to explore difficult feelings.

For more tips like these and information on related topics, check out Intellectual Development: Connecting Science and Practice in Early Childhood Settings by Dave Riley, Mary Carns, Ann Ramminger, Joan Klinkner, and Colette Sisco.

Tell us: What is your favorite book to read with children?

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