child development reading fun teen cognitive social language


Reading books is very important. We hear this all the time, yet why is reading books so crucial? You might initially think that reading books is good for language development, which is right. Reading books can help a child learn vocabulary they don’t frequently encounter, and it can help them learn syntax and grammar. But reading books is much more than that, it is also important for cognitive and social development. Reading stories to children can help them learn about how others handle situations, various emotions, choices and their consequences, social norms, and more. In fact, reading should be promoted as a fun and important activity for all ages.

Below are a few suggestions as to how you as a parent can help support language, cognitive, social, and emotional development using books as early as infancy.

0 to 18 months old

Picture books are a great way to initiate babies and toddlers to the world. Start by using picture books to point at objects and name them. You can also point out colors and shapes. Eventually, you can move on to pointing out actions (e.g., the boy is running/eating/ crying). At this point your child may not be able to sit through a whole story, so each time you pick up a book, focus on a different aspect. Repetition is good, so a few books are sufficient. When reading whole stories choose books that are short and rhyme. Rhyming is very important for early language development.

18 months to 3 years old

As your child’s language, cognitive and motor skills develop start asking your child to point to objects on the page (e.g., can you show me the duck?). Start with obvious elements of the book and work towards elements that might be less noticeable or harder to find, this will help your child learn how to scan a page for information. Also, point out how that same thing might look different on another page because it is drawn from a different angle (e.g., here is the girl eating, here is the same girl taking a bath).

3 to 6 years old

When your child starts speaking in sentences, start asking him/her questions about the story before turning to the next page (e.g., what happens next?). You will notice that even with books that you may have read together many times, they might not have yet been able to retain the storyline or understand action-reaction. Then you can start asking questions that work on perspective taking: how is the boy feeling (point to sad face), why does the boy look sad?

Elementary School

At first, shared reading (where the child reads one page, and the parent reads the other page) can help a new reader to continue enjoying books. Pre-reading activities can also support reading comprehension. Reviewing pictures and sub-headings along with new vocabulary and concepts before beginning to read can help your child link new information with material that was learned previously. Asking questions about the material is also important; factual questions, along with questions requiring your child to make inferences and predictions, are best.

High School

At this point shared reading is not an option anymore, but you can continue to support reading by having books available in the home. Books are expensive and not everyone has the space to store large quantities of books. What I would suggest is to use your public library. Every few weeks visit your library and encourage your teen to pick a book. Maybe your teen prefers comic books and those are fine too. The joy of reading is something built over time.

Don’t forget parent modeling! If you switch on the TV (or get on your phone) as soon as supper is done and don’t turn it off until you go to bed, it’s hard to expect your child to not do the same. Model for your child by picking up a book in the evening and reading a few pages. Reading before sleep can help feel sleepy and reduces the negative effects of blue light emitted from electronic devices which can harm your sleep cycle. If reading regularly is new for you too, start small (5 mins) and work your way up.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties.

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