A web-exclusive guide for parents written by Penelope Leach, Ph.D.
When parents read aloud to their children, everyone wins. It's fun for the adult and great for the kids. Easy for you and good for them. You don't even have to ration it because, unlike TV or ice cream, there's no such thing as too much.
There's no such thing as too early, either. If you wait until pre-school to start reading to your children, you'll have missed out on years. If you even wait until they can talk, you'll have missed out on months. Start showing your baby pictures and telling her about them as soon as she focuses her eyes on the pattern on your sweater or the change-mat.
"Reading" to tiny babies is a way of talking to them; and talking not only speeds brain development, but cements relationships as well. Make sure that anyone who ever cares for your baby takes reading to her for granted."Reading" to older babies is a way of expanding their experience. You can't always find a real cat or truck or fried egg to tell him about, but you can always find their pictures in books. And linking the sight of things with the sounds of their names boosts language learning.
Reading to toddlers is education and loving and talking and fun. It's about language itself and discovering the joys of jokes and rhymes and huge long words that roll round the tongue and trip it up. It's about learning to "read" pictures to find the meanings of words or the answers to questions hiding behind those thrilling pull-tabs: where's the kitten gone? There he is...And eventually it's about the sheer, entrancing magic of stories unfolding between the pictures and the voice; playing to a dawning imagination, a fledgling ability to put herself in someone else's place.
And reading to pre-schoolers is all that, plus a welcome to our culture where everything--even on the information highway--revolves around the written word. Pictures on the page are his introduction to print; being read to helps him toward written language, now, just as it helped him toward spoken language two years ago.
Once your kids are hooked on being read to, they will never be bored if somebody will read, and since there are bound to be times when nobody will read and they are bored, they'll have the best possible reason to learn to read themselves.
Reading to themselves isn't a signal to stop reading to them, though. Whether your child is five or seven or nine years old when he starts to read stories to himself for pleasure, the mechanics of the words will still get between him and their enthralling sounds and meanings. Read just one more chapter; one more poem. You have nothing to lose and your kids have everything to gain.