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Preschooler reading with mum

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Your child’s ability to hear, recognise and use sounds in his early years will help him have success later in life when he’s learning to read.
Reading aloud and sharing stories with your child is one of the most important and enjoyable things you can do together. If you’re not sure what or how to start reading with your preschooler, here are some ideas.

Why reading with your preschooler is important

Sharing stories, talking and singing every day helps your child’s development in lots of ways.

You’re getting your child familiar with sounds, words, language and, eventually, the value and joy of books. This all builds your child’s early literacy skills, like the ability to listen to and understand words. It also helps her go on to read successfully later in childhood.

Reading stories stimulates your child’s imagination and helps him learn about the world around him. It’s also a great time for you to bond with your child and share time together.

You can start reading to your child as early as you like – the earlier the better. Our articles on reading and storytelling with children and developing literacy have more information to get you and your child started.

Sharing books with your preschooler

At this age and stage, reading with your child is all about spending special time together, and having fun by enjoying the language and illustrations in picture books. Here are some tips that can help you and your preschooler make the most of your reading time.

Looking at the book 
Before you start, ask your child some questions about the book:

  • Who are the author and illustrator of the book?
  • What do think this story is about? 
  • Who might be in it? 
  • What do you think will happen?

Reading the story

  • Vary the pace of your reading, as well as how loud you read. Changing your voice and expression for different characters can also be fun.
  • Encourage your child to use her finger to trace the words while you read them. 
  • Let your child turn the pages of the book himself.
  • Ask your child some questions about the story – for example, ‘What do you think happens next?’, ‘Why is the baby happy?’ and ‘Who has the ball?’.
  • Chant or sing repetitive phrases and words together.

Looking at letters, words and punctuation

  • Point out the differences between letters and words, and the difference between a lower-case and capital letter. For example, ‘There is a capital M. Can you see how it’s bigger than this lower-case m?’
  • Point out different punctuation marks, including full stops, exclamation marks and question marks. Explain what these mean – for example, ‘There is a question mark. When we see one of those, we know that somebody is asking a question’. 
  • When you see words printed in bold or large font, point these out and explain how this changes the ways that we say those words. For example, ‘Look at how big the word BOOHOO is. The baby must be crying very loudly’.
  • Ask questions about the names and sounds of letters.
  • Play ‘find the letters and words’ games, especially with the letters in your child’s name.

Other reading activities

  • Help your child make up her own stories and drawings to go with them.
  • Let your child ‘read’ you his favourite book.

General tips for budding readers

  • Make a routine, and try to share at least one book every day. Sharing a book can be a nice way to start and finish the day. A comfortable and favourite reading place can be part of the routine.
  • Turn off the TV or radio so your child can focus.
  • Hold your child close or on your knee while you read so she can see your face and the book.
  • Try out funny noises and sounds – play and have fun!
  • Involve your child by encouraging talk about the pictures and repeating familiar words.
  • Let your child choose the books. Be prepared to read favourite books over and over again!
When your child sees you reading and writing, you’re creating a home environment that helps develop literacy skills. Your reading and writing can be as simple as reading magazines or newspapers and writing shopping lists or messages for your partner or children.

What to read with your child

There are so many books to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start.

As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books that have good rhyme, rhythm and repetition. In fact, one of the ways that children learn is through repetition and rhyme.

In the preschool years (ages 3-5 years), your child might especially enjoy:

  • alphabet, shape, size and counting books
  • books that tell simple stories, especially ones with rhythm and repetition
  • books about families, friends and going to school
  • books with characters who are about the same age as your child and characters who have quirky traits
  • books that use humour and have a sense of fun – for example, a character who uses a funny word, or who is silly or even ‘naughty’
  • books relating to particular interests – for example, books about dinosaurs, fairies, football or animals. Some preschoolers are very interested in non-fiction books, including books about the stars, the ocean, inventions, food and travels around the world.
If your child is attending child care, kindergarten or preschool, it might be helpful for you to talk to his teachers or carers to get some ideas about how they read with the children. Some preschools allow children to borrow books each week or to bring a special book from home to share with the group.

Here are some books for you and your preschooler to explore:

  • Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day by Judith Viorst
  • An Australian 1,2,3 of animals by Bronwyn Bancroft
  • An Australian ABC of animals by Bronwyn Bancroft
  • Are we there yet? by Alison Lester
  • Early learning big book of Australian nature by Steve Parish
  • The Hairy Maclary collection by Lynley Dodd
  • Koala Lou by Mem Fox
  • Let’s get a pup by Bob Graham
  • Naughty agapanthus by Barbara Macfarlane
  • Olivia by Ian Falconer and others in this series
  • One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish by Dr Seuss
  • Owl babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
  • Possum magic by Mem Fox
  • Squish rabbit by Katherine Battersby
  • The cat in the hat by Dr Seuss
  • The rice bag hammock by Shaeeza Haniff
  • The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The wheels on the bus by Penny Dann
  • Za-Za’s baby brother by Lucy Cousins.

Why not visit your local library? It’s free to join and borrow. The staff will be able to recommend books for you and your child to enjoy.

Video Telling stories with children

In this short video, storyteller Anne E. Stewart talks about telling stories with children. She says storytelling promotes literacy and language and gets children ready to start reading. Stories about family and culture also give children a sense of their place in the world. You can use actions and rhymes to get children involved in the story.
For more story ideas, you could check out our storytelling videos. Let storyteller Anne E. Stewart introduce you and your child to ‘Mook Mook the Owl’, ‘The Crocodile’, ‘The Old Lady and The Mosquito’ and ‘How the Years were Named for the Animals’.
  • Last updated or reviewed 23-02-2017
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Sonya Nedovic, early childhood educator, Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute.