life of
dr. mom

Reading Books to Your Child Helps Them Learn to Read and Improves Language Abilities Later in Life

As a young child, I did not like to read. At bedtime, I remember asking my parents to make up a story or sing me a song instead reading me a book. My teachers were very concerned about my ability to learn to read and asked my parents to enrol me into a supportive learning program for literacy. Fortunately with the extra reading help, I was able to read at an age appropriate level by the third grade.

The evidence that reading to your child can help support their development is not new.  In the 1980’s, there was a study that found that parents who read books to their children daily were more interested in books later in life.

Reading frequently to your child can help support Language and literacy development

In 2019, there was a study that followed 55 parent-child couples between the ages of 1 and 2.5 years, and analyzed interactions in which parents were reading books to their children.  They followed these children into later life, and found that the quantity of book reading in early childhood actually predicted improved language and literacy outcomes when the children were in elementary school, and helped the children learn to read.

Young children who are read to more have higher motivation to read later in life

What was particularly interesting was that children whom were read to more often at ages 1-3 showed improved receptive vocabulary (understanding) and reading comprehension in elementary school, as well as a higher internal motivation to read. 

The biggest difference between Madi and I is how drawn she is to kids books. Even as an infant, she enjoyed looking at pictures in books and would often flip through pages independently. Now as a toddler she asks me to read to her throughout the day and even pretends to read by herself. Although I never enjoyed reading as a child, I love reading books to Madi. It is a special time for us to cuddle and connect.

How much do we read?

I try to read at least 2 kids books to Madi every day.  Before bed always is a great time for us and we have incorporated it into our regular bedtime routine. As an adult, I rarely read for pleasure and I wonder if that is because I preferred not to be read to as a child. I’m hoping that Madi will continue to enjoy reading into adulthood!

This post was co-authored by Suzanne Black, MD, BSc and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.


Bus, A. G., Leseman, P. P., & Keultjes, P. ( 2000). Joint book reading across cultures: A comparison of Surinamese‐Dutch, Turkish‐Dutch, and Dutch parent‐child dyads. Journal of Literacy Research, 32( 1), 53– 76. 

Bus, A. G., Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Pellegrini, A. D. ( 1995). Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta‐analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational Research, 65( 1), 1– 21. 

Mol, S. E., & Bus, A. G. ( 2011). To read or not to read: A meta‐analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological Bulletin, 137( 2), 267– 296. 

Payne, A. C., Whitehurst, G. J., & Angell, A. L. ( 1994). The role of home literacy environment in the development of language ability in preschool children from low‐income families. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9( 3–4), 427– 440. 

Sénéchal, M., & Lefevre, J. ( 2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five‐year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 73( 2),445– 460.

Sénéchal, M., Lefevre, J., Thomas, E. M., & Daley, K. E. ( 1998). Differential effects of home literacy experiences on the development of oral and written language. Reading Research Quarterly, 33( 1), 96– 116. 

Demir-Lira, O.; Applebaum, L.; Goldin-Meadow, S.; Levin, S.  Parents’ early book reading to children: Relation to children’s later language and literacy outcomes controlling for other parent language input.  Developmental Science.  October 16 2018. 

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