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Children's Health

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How Reading Helps Language Development - Topic Overview

Newborns and toddlers

Speech and language lessons start in the uterus, where your unborn baby hears and responds to familiar voices. After birth, your newborn learns language by listening to the basic and distinct sounds (phonemes), such as the "tr" and "cl" sounds in the English language.

Reading to your newborn gives him or her comforting contact. You are also establishing an early reading routine, and this helps make future reading comfortable and fun.

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As your newborn becomes a toddler and older, reading opens him or her to new ideas. It helps your child become more familiar with the sounds and rhythms of the language.

Older children and teens

Continue to read to your child, even as he or she gets older and seems to lose interest. Reading and other activities, such as writing, drawing or playing a musical instrument, can help children learn to think and express themselves in new ways. Your older child or teen may discover a new or stronger interest, which may help his or her self-esteem.

Reasons to read

Reading books with children helps develop their language skills by:

  • Increasing their exposure to language. Stories that rhyme are very helpful for teaching speech and language skills and can help children discover a love of language.
  • Engaging children's imaginations, stimulating imaginative play (a primary way children learn about the world), and introducing children to things and places they may not have a chance to learn about otherwise, such as oceans or dinosaurs.
  • Helping children work out their feelings about the world. Many children's books are on topics that can open up valuable discussions between a parent and child, such as books about sibling rivalry, nightmares, or dealing with difficult emotions.

Tips to help children read

Read to your child every day. Here are some tips to help you. Take your child's age into consideration as you use them.

  • Choose books with colorful pictures, and point to the pictures while you read.
  • Read books that are made of cloth or cardboard so that your child can hold them and turn the pages.
  • Choose books that show lots of action. Ask your child to point to familiar items and make the sounds that go with them. Say "Point to the fire engine" and "What sound does the fire engine make?"
  • Join your child in reading. Set aside time that you and your child can look forward to and talk about stories, words, and ideas.
  • Visit the library on a regular basis. Try to find books with new subjects that you think might interest your child.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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