The purposes of children's literature are varied: they play an important role in budding readers’ linguistic, social, emotional and intellectual development, not to mention the foundational development of their interpersonal relationships. Choosing what, when, and how to read to your little ones is therefore of greatest importance. We’re here to help you answer those questions! 

Language is central to human development. For the first three years of their lives, children are especially susceptible to external forces they encounter every day in their development of language – in most cases, this means parents, guardians, and other people they see often. Of course, language practice starts with the foundational basics, but reading books to your children from as early as possible has many long-term positive benefits too. While they might not – just yet! – understand every word, it is still the perfect opportunity to bond with them, all the while modelling language practices via reading. 

Reading regularly with children from a young age stimulates patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships. This, in turn, builds language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that will set them up for life. Not to mention, they do as we do, not as we say, so observing adults reading books around or to them from an early age is likely to create young book lovers further down the line. This is where children’s literature comes in! 

When should I read to children?

It’s never too early to start! Research has found that reading to your baby in the womb promotes brain activity and can promote early literacy skills and language development – isn’t that amazing? So while reading to your unborn child might feel a touch too much, it actually has the potential to help them register language – and your voice – better from an early age. The roots of language are developing in a baby's brain even before they can talk. Therefore, it’s best to get into the habit of reading something every day with your little one, from the moment you know they’re there, and of course even more so once they’re here. 

Whether you like to incorporate reading books into your children’s night time routines, morning calm, or as part of a fun-filled day, they will hugely benefit from “reading books with you” from a very young age. Not only in their language development and future love of reading, but in their connection to you too. 

How should I read to children?

Now, you might be thinking, “I know how to read!” But reading as a solitary, individual, quiet activity is different from reading together with a young one, aiding their language development. There are a couple of things that you can do to ensure that you both get the most out of your time with your noses in books. 

Set yourself up for success by finding a comfortable space to read together

This might sound obvious, but creating a routine around reading builds anticipation and a sense of safety required for calm, focussed reading. Whether that’s in an armchair before going to sleep, in the garden after lunch, or on public transport on the way to the park, structured routines set you up for success in the long run.

Make reading a two-way conversation 

While reading to children might be about reader and listener, reading with children will ensure that your little ones get the most enjoyment and benefits out of the experience. Make sure you ask questions about the story, the characters, and talk about their relationship to real life. This can be as easy as asking what colour a flower is in a book versus out in the garden, or using a character’s experience – say, with sharing – to talk about instances where your little one might’ve had to share something of theirs. The more they are part of the “storytelling”, the more they’ll feel like a contributing, equal family member not just in reading, but otherwise too. Not to mention the many language and cognitive benefits of this practice! 

Use different voices for different characters 

When you read a book aloud, try becoming all of those characters. By giving book characters relevant traits – sadness, anger, excitement – through your acting, you help your children arrive at an understanding between words and their meanings much quicker. Not to mention, it makes reading so much more fun!

What should I read to children?

Ah, the most important question of all. Selecting books to read to children can be difficult – where to even begin? With millions of children’s books already on the market and an incredible amount being published every month, we can see how easy it is to get lost in options. Naturally, the older your children are, the more readily they can express interests and likes: this is the point where book selection becomes easier, as you can cater to their budding preferences. Before that, there are a couple of pointers we think are handy to follow. 

Reading with babies

First off, we recommend starting their book journey with black and white, high contrast board books. For the first couple of months of their lives, babies' colour perception is limited, and the world is still a little blurry. 

Black and white books give them the opportunity to start to experience shapes and patterns from the wider world and help them begin to learn to focus, whilst also providing gentle entertainment and stimulation.

As they grow and begin to show more interest in their surroundings, it's time to graduate to simple board and picture books. What you want to look for are lines that rhyme, interactive elements, sounds to try and mimic together, and repetitive actions. The best children’s literature inspire curiosity and engagement with the content, all the while supporting kids in their development of imagination, empathy, and relation. 

To the library we go!

Once your children begin to take more of an active part in reading and they show more and more of an understanding of the content, the world becomes your oyster! There are hundreds and hundreds of books on any topic imaginable, but if you don’t want to spend a fortune on keeping up with their curiosity, we recommend becoming a member at your local library. Libraries are a wonderful place to introduce children to books and other materials, to join a wide range of programs, activities, and events, but also to find your own bookish community as a parent or guardian. Check out the most amazing benefits of visiting the library here!

Diverse children’s books

Another important element to consider is the diversity of books you expose your kids to. The types of books we are familiar with shape the way we view the world. Especially when we’re younger, these influences can have long-lasting effects – which is why you should consider diversity in children's literature when picking books for them. And if you’re new to the world of diverse children’s books, fear not! Click here to read more about how – and what – diverse books should be a part of your family life.

The purpose of children’s literature 

At the end of the day, parents and adults play an important role in supporting children’s experiences with language and eventually literature, and the sooner you begin, the better their relationship with words will be. Talking and reading to and with them from an early age and introducing books in all shapes and forms can all aid them in the development of early reading skills for later, not to mention a love of storytelling and a deeper connection with you as a parent or adult. It is no wonder then that children’s literature is very important for a child’s development, and choosing when, what, and how to read greatly influences their cognitive and emotional growth. 

The purpose of children’s literature is to aid them on this developmental journey, and to equip them with the empathy, understanding, and critical thinking skills required for a happy, successful life in the wider world. 

Want to take your child’s love of words to a new level? Check out the best children's literature festival in Australia!