A to Z’s of Early Childhood

The science of child development and learning

R is for Reading

Shared Book Reading with Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Shared book reading between a caregiver and child has been found to have broad developmental benefits.  The interactions that occur during shared book reading support brain development, social-emotional connections, and language and literacy skills. Given the benefits of shared book reading vary across different ages and developmental stages, what and how caregivers read to infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children matters. Research shows many benefits for children’s language and literacy skills when caregivers read to them consistently throughout early childhood.

A father reading to his two young children.

Strategies for Shared Book Reading

Here are four effective strategies for shared book reading.

Finding the right books at the right time encourages positive experiences for infants and young children. Choose books that are relevant to the child’s life and meet their interests and abilities.

Spending time every day in shared book reading can increase early learning and language development, including for infants as young as 6 months of age.  For older infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, caregivers can positively respond to children’s interests in books and book reading by:  

  • Engaging in shared book reading several times a day. 
  • Following the child’s lead about how long to read, which books to read, and how they are read.  
  • Focusing on making book reading an enjoyable experience that leads to positive interactions between the child and those who are sharing the reading experience.

How you read to a child is as important as what you read. Use strategies that foster language development.

Research shows that naming characters or animals in books helps engage infants’ attention. If books do not have names of characters, making up names can also help engage infants’ attention. For example, you could name a picture of a duck “Mr. Waddles.” 

Follow the child’s focus of attention during shared book reading to allow for embedded learning opportunities. For example, if a toddler is looking at a book, sees a red truck, and says, “truck,” while pointing to the truck, you can say, “Yes, it’s a red truck.”  This is an opportunity to learn a color name during shared book reading. 

Use “wait time.” When you or the child turns the pages of the book, wait a few seconds to see what the child does or says. Affirm what the child does or says and build on it. For example, if an older infant points to a picture of a duck on a page, you can build on their interest by saying, “Yes, that is a duck. That is Mr. Waddles.” 

For older toddlers and preschool-age children, draw connections between what the child is reading and their experiences. For example, if a child says a character in the book is feeling sad, you might say, “Yes, she is sad. Remember when you lost your toy? Did you feel sad?” These types of back-and-forth interactions are vital for building social-emotional connections and early communication and language skills.

In addition to building language skills, shared book reading can also build early literacy skills. Encouraging toddlers to explore books by holding them or turning pages out of order (according to which pages engage their attention) helps them learn print concepts.

Caregivers might ask older toddlers and preschool-age children to help them identify when words rhyme or sound the same, name letters, and identify what sound a letter makes. For example, a caregiver might say, “Hickory-dickory-dock. The mouse ran up the clock. Listen! Clock-dock. Those words rhyme! What sounds like clock and dock?”  These early literacy skills are an important foundation for later literacy success.

Download these PDFs to see specific, age-appropriate examples for each shared reading strategy.

0-6 Months   |   7-12 Months  |   13-18 Months  |   19-24 Months   |   2-3 Years  |   4-5 Years

What We Are Doing

The Anita Zucker Center and our collaborators work to support families and practitioners to promote language and literacy development in infants and young children.

Learn More:

  • Enhancing Language and Literacy Outcomes for Young Children in the Community
    The Anita Zucker Center is partnering with the United Way of North Central Florida to participate in the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Reading on grade-level by the end of third grade is an important predictor of school success and high school graduation. As a component of this campaign, the Anita Zucker Center will work with community collaborators to participate in the Lectio Institute to develop a comprehensive approach to enhancing language and literacy outcomes for young children in Alachua County and the North Central Florida community.
  • Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
    The Anita Zucker Center’s partner the United Way of North Central Florida provides children with a free new book every month through their fifth birthday with the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a community initiative to increase early literacy.
  • Training Teachers to Teach Vocabulary (T3V): A Professional Development Intervention for Toddler and Preschool Teachers of Children at Risk for Communication Difficulties
    This project focuses on providing professional development to Early Head Start and Head Start practitioners to help them support the vocabulary skills of young children at risk for communication delays using book reading and other activities.
  • Read The Right Books At The Right Time: A Learning Sciences Exchange Fellows’ Project 
    Dr. Lisa Scott, an affiliate of the Anita Zucker Center, created a public service announcement (PSA) to communicate to parents and caregivers the importance of reading early and often and to “Read the Right Books at the Right Time.” The PSA emphasizes Dr. Scott’s research, which shows that naming characters in infants’ books promotes learning in the first year of life.

Other Resources

Recommended Books for Shared Reading:

  • 13 Best Books for Babies’ Brains
    Read this article from Parents magazine, based on Anita Zucker Center Affiliate Dr. Lisa Scott’s research, which shows that reading stories with named characters supports brain development.

Strategies for Shared Reading:

  • Early Literacy Tip Sheets
    The University of Florida Lastinger Center partnered with the Florida Grade-Level Reading Campaign to offer parents and teachers easy-to-implement tips and strategies for building early language and literacy skills for young children.
  • Age-by-Age Guide to Reading to Your Baby
    This guide from Parents magazine gives age-specific guidance to parents on how to engage their young children with reading.
  • For Baby’s Brain to Benefit, Read the Right Books at the Right Time
    This article, written by Anita Zucker Center Affiliate Dr. Lisa Scott, explains how recent research found that both the quality and quantity of shared book reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills, and name writing ability. 
  • How to Create a Literate Home: Baby and Toddler
    This article from PBS Kids outlines the materials and routines parents and caregivers need to create a literate home. 
  • Reading with Babies Matters!
    This brief article, offered by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), gives practical tips and advice for parents when reading to young children. 
  • Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read Aloud with Young Children
    This article from Reading Rockets explains the many benefits of using dialogic reading with preschool-age children and explains how to employ the PEER sequence (Prompt, Evaluate, Expand, Repeat) during shared book reading.
  • Optimizing Shared Book Reading
    This webinar from Brookes Publishing highlights how parents and caregivers can find and create learning opportunities during shared book reading with their children.

Reading and Social-Emotional Development:

Pediatric Interventions: 

  • Early Literacy Interventions: Reach Out and Read
    This academic article from Pediatric Clinics of North America, states that pediatricians are “…uniquely positioned to address early child’s literacy development because they are often the only practitioner regularly encountering parents, infants, and children during the preschool years.”
  • Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice
    This article from Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, emphasizes the importance of children’s books being provided at pediatric offices to children at high risk living at or near the poverty threshold as well as the integration of literacy promotion, an essential component of pediatric primary care, into pediatric resident education.

Articles by Center Members and Collaborators

Scott, L.S. (2011). Mechanisms underlying the emergence of object representations during infancy. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(10), 2935-2955. http://doi.org/ 10.1162/jocn_a_00019

Scott, L.S. & Monesson, A. (2010). Experience-dependent neural specialization during infancy. Neuropsychologia, 48(6), 1857-1861. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.02.008

Scott, L. S., & Monesson, A. (2009). The origin of biases in face perception. Psychological Science, 20(6), 676-680. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02348.x

References

Fletcher, K. L., & Finch, W. H. (2015). The role of book familiarity and book type on mothers’ reading strategies and toddlers’ responsiveness. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 15(1), 73-96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798414523026

Muhinyi, A. & Rowe, M.L. (2019). Shared reading with preverbal infants and later language development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 64, 1-11,  doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2019.101053

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implications for intervention. National Center for Family Literacy. https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/NELPReport09.pdf  

Parlakian, R. & MacLaughlin, S. (n.d.). Read early and often. Zero to Three. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1833-read-early-and-often

Scott, L. S., & Monesson, A. (2009). The origin of biases in face perception. Psychological Science, 20(6), 676-680. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02348.x

Salo, V., Rowe, M.L., & Reeb-Sutherland, B.C. (2018). Exploring infant gesture and joint attention as related constructs and as predictors of later language. Infancy, 23(3), 432-452.  doi: 10.1111/infa.12229

Wasik, B. A., Hindman, A. H., & Snell, E. K. (2016). Book reading and vocabulary development: A systematic review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly37, 39-57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2016.04.003

Additional References

Ard, L. M., & Beverly, B. L. (2004). Preschool word learning during joint book reading: Effect of adult questions and comments. Communication Disorders Quarterly26(1), 17-28. https://doi.org/10.1177/15257401040260010101

Britto, P. R., Brooks‐Gunn, J., & Griffin, T. M. (2006). Maternal reading and teaching patterns: Associations with school readiness in low‐income African American families. Reading Research Quarterly41(1), 68-89. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.41.1.3

Deckner, D. F., Adamson, L. B., & Bakeman, R. (2006). Child and maternal contributions to shared reading: Effects on language and literacy development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology27(1), 31-41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2005.12.001

Fletcher, K. L., & Reese, E. (2005). Picture book reading with young children: A conceptual framework. Developmental Review, 25(1), 64-103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2004.08.009

Fletcher, K. L., Cross, J. R., Tanney, A. L., Schneider, M., & Finch, W. H. (2008). Predicting language development in children at risk: The effects of quality and frequency of caregiver reading. Early Education and Development19(1), 89-111. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409280701839106

Hammer, C. S., Nimmo, D., Cohen, R., Draheim, H. C., & Johnson, A. A. (2005). Book reading interactions between African American and Puerto Rican Head Start children and their mothers. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy5(3), 195-227. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798405058683

Horowitz‐Kraus, T., & Hutton, J. S. (2015). From emergent literacy to reading: How learning to read changes a child’s brain. Acta Paediatrica104(7), 648-656. https://doi.org/10.1111/apa.13018

Karrass, J. & Braungart-Rieker, J.M. (2005). Effects of shared parent–infant book reading on early language acquisition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26(2), 133-148, 10.1016/j.appdev.2004.12.003.

Marchman, V. A., & Fernald, A. (2008). Speed of word recognition and vocabulary knowledge in infancy predict cognitive and language outcomes in later childhood. Developmental Science11(3), F9-F16. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00671.x

Pickron, C. B., Iyer, A., Fava, E., & Scott, L. S. (2018). Learning to individuate: The specificity of labels differentially impacts infant visual attention. Child Development, 89(3), 698-710. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13004

Roberts, J., Jergens, J., & Burchinal, M. (2005). The role of home literacy practices in preschool children’s language and emergent literacy skills. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48(2), 345 – 359. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2005/024)

Dedicated to supporting the well-being of young children and their families, the Anita Zucker Center has engaged with its partners to launch an ambitious initiative designed to provide accessible and practical information about child development and learning to support parents, caregivers, professionals and policymakers.

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