Health Benefits of Reading to Children

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 05, 2021

Reading to children has both immediate and far-reaching benefits. Reading together not only improves language skills, literacy, and brain development. It also forges a deeper connection between you and your child. 

Reading together helps to:

Build language skills. When you read books, you’ll be reading words you don’t typically use in everyday conversations. Your child might hear, for example, the name of an unfamiliar animal. Hearing new words helps children build their vocabulary. 

Connect with your child. Sharing the experience of a book together can help you and your child bond. The affectionate one-on-one time creates special memories and helps kids associate reading with something positive.

Develop the brain. Hearing spoken language helps with brain development, even before children are able to talk. One study showed that when preschoolers had greater exposure to reading at home, imaging studies show more activation in areas of the brain associated with mental imagery and understanding narratives.

Improve literacy. Reading to a child improves their future reading skills and fosters a love of reading.

Improve future health. Reading to a child benefits their future health. There is a link between literacy and health outcomes. The reasons for this link are multifaceted, but literacy is important when it comes to successfully navigating health care. 

How Should I Read to My Child?

Reading to your child doesn't need to be a chore. Even reading together for just a few minutes a day is beneficial. Here are some tips to get you started on an enjoyable routine:

Designate a daily time. Kids thrive with routines, so establishing reading as part of a daily routine can ensure your child is making reading a daily habit. Bedtime stories are a great place to start. 

Read with expression. Have some fun with the books – find your inner-thespian and read with lots of expression. If you're reading to an infant or toddler, research shows they prefer a sing-song voice with slow and exaggerated word sounds. When reading chapter books to older children, having distinct character voices can bring the story to life without the help of pictures. 

Go with the flow. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to finish the book, or if they just want to focus on one or two pages of the story. When you are reading to toddlers, for example, they won’t necessarily be able to follow a full story and that’s OK. Even if you spend all your time on just one page, your child will still benefit from reading together. 

It’s OK to stick with favorites. It’s common for kids to want to hear the same book over and over again. Children learn best with repetition, and hearing the same story repeatedly can be comforting. So go ahead and muster up your enthusiasm for the tenth (or hundredth) reading of Pete the Cat.

Use your local public library. You and your child can choose from thousands of books for free at your local library. If you need help, librarians have an amazing ability to pair kids with just the right book.

Talk during and after. Books provide ample opportunity for back-and-forth conversations with your kids.  You can ask questions to help them make connections between the story and their own lives, such as “Have you ever lost a toy like the boy in the story?”. Talk about the pictures you see and ask how they think the characters are feeling. This back and forth discussion is important for their language and social development. 

How Do I Choose Books to Read to My Child?

Choosing the right book depends on your child’s age, maturity, reading level, and interests. It’s always a good idea to follow the child’s lead to find a book that would interest them. If you let your child choose the book you will read together, they are more likely to feel engaged with the activity. 

‌There are so many wonderful children’s books available, it can be overwhelming when trying to find the right one for your own child.  If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some tried-and-true books to read to kids:

Books for the Littlest Readers (available as Board Books)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr.

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Preschool and Early Elementary Books

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish

The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norman Juster

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

No, David! by David Shannon

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

First Chapter Books for Big Kids
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

There are many reasons why reading is important. Set aside time each day to read with your child. You will create memories and foster a lifelong love of books and learning.

Show Sources


Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine: “Reading to Children.” 

‌California Department of Education: Recommended Literature List Database

Cleveland Clinic: “The Benefits of Reading to Babies.”

Community Early Learning Australia: “How reading to children links to emerging literacy.” 

Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center: “Read it Again! Benefits of Reading to Young Children.”

PBS: “Why Reading Aloud to Kids Helps them Thrive.” 

Pediatrics: “Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Preschool Children Listening to Stories,” “Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice.”

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