Reading to Children: Necessary but not Sufficient

There is a long history of research showing that reading to children is important. It ‘socialises’ them into the experience of reading before they can do this task independently. They learn about the structure of a book (the direction we turn pages, that we read from top to bottom and left to right, about cover pages and titles, about the relationship of pictures to the story and about letters and words and sentences). They are exposed to stories that make them laugh or cry or feel scared. They learn about people and places and experiences that they may never encounter in their everyday life.

As Seidenberg (2017) notes, the emphasis that our culture places on reading to children creates the incorrect impression that it plays the same role as talking with children. Whereas talking with children will (generally) guarantee that they will learn to speak, reading to children does NOT guarantee that they will learn to read. Contrary to what many parents are told, if children have difficulty learning to read, it does not presuppose that they haven’t been read to sufficiently. Learning to read requires systematic guidance and feedback and children who learn to read by being read to or by ‘teaching themselves’ are the exception.

However, reading to children does influence later reading development in that a large rich vocabulary facilitates learning to read. If you are familiar with a word and its meaning, you are more likely to find it easier to remember the written form of the word when it is encountered. Reading to children exposes them to a large range of vocabulary and complex sentence structures that they would not normally encounter in every day conversations.


Seidenberg, M. (2017).  Language at the speed of sight. Basic Books: New York.

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