Why reading with preschoolers is important
It’s good to read, talk about books, share stories, and sing every day. This helps your child’s development in many ways.
For example, through these activities your child learns new speech sounds and words. Your child also starts to understand how sounds go together to make words and what words mean. This builds your child’s language skills and literacy skills and helps your child go on to read successfully later in childhood.
Reading stories stimulates your child’s imagination and helps your child learn about the world. For example, reading books can help your child learn about and feel respect for other cultures. Reading also develops your child’s social skills and skills for managing emotions.
And reading is 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 article on reading and storytelling with children has more information to get you and your child started.
Tips for reading, sharing books and storytelling with preschoolers
Reading with your child is all about spending special time together and having fun by enjoying the words and pictures in books.
It’s best to follow your child’s lead with reading. Sometimes your child will want to talk about the words and pictures, and sometimes they’ll want to listen quietly while you read. And at other times, your child might enjoy ‘pretend reading’ – that is, turning the pages and telling the story themselves.
Here are tips that can help you and your child make the most of your reading time.
Looking at the book
Before you start, briefly ask your child some questions about the book:
- What do you 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 and using gestures can also be fun.
- Let your child turn the pages of the book.
- Ask your child some questions about the story. For example, ‘What do you think happens next?’, ‘Why is the baby happy?’ or ‘Who has the ball?’
- Ask your child questions that help them relate to the story. For example, ‘How would you feel if this was you?’ or ‘What would you do if this happened to you?’
- Chant or sing repetitive phrases and words together. For example, ‘I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in’.
- Add information when your child asks a question. For example, your child might point to a bear and ask, ‘What’s that?’ You could say, ‘That’s a bear. It’s sleeping in its cave. Bears sleep all winter long’.
Looking at letters and words
Older preschoolers might start to notice letters. For example, they might notice the letter that starts their name. Here are ways to build on this interest:
- 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?’
- When you see words printed in bold or large font, point these out and explain how this changes the way 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.
- Explain the meaning of any unusual words.
Other reading activities
- Help your child make up stories and drawings to go with them.
- Make a storybook together. Let your child choose the story or use your child’s own made-up stories and drawings.
- If your child can’t read words, encourage your child to tell you a story based on the pictures in a book.
General tips for budding readers
- Make a routine, and try to share at least one book every day. A special space where you and your child go to read – with a box of books and something comfortable to sit on – can help with establishing your routine.
- Turn off the TV or radio and put your phone on silent, so your child can focus.
- Hold your child close or on your knee while you read, so your child can see your face and the book.
- Make connections between the book and your child’s life. For example, ‘We saw a caterpillar like that yesterday, didn’t we?’
- Try out funny noises and sounds – play and have fun!
- Involve your child by encouraging talk about the pictures and repeating familiar words.
- Be guided by your child’s interest. There might be days when your child doesn’t want to spend a long time reading, and that’s OK.
- 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 develops 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.
Types of books to read with preschoolers
In the preschool years, children enjoy reading many different types of books. Your child might especially enjoy:
- alphabet, shape, size and counting books
- books that tell simple stories, especially ones with rhyme, 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, sport, animals, stars, the ocean, inventions, food and travels around the world.
Ebooks can be handy, especially if you’re travelling or away from home. If your child wants to read ebooks, read them together and choose stories without distracting animations or games. It’s best if ebooks don’t replace paper books. And it’s important to balance screen time and digital technology use with other activities.
Book suggestions for preschoolers
Here are books for you and your child to explore. Many of these books have the rhymes, rhythms and repetition that preschoolers love.
Books about animals
- An Australian 1, 2, 3 of animals by Bronwyn Bancroft
- An Australian ABC of animals by Bronwyn Bancroft
- Bat vs Poss by Alexa Moses
- The Hairy Maclary collection by Lynley Dodd
- Koala Lou by Mem Fox
- Let’s get a pup by Bob Graham
- Owl babies by Martin Waddell
- Possum magic by Mem Fox
- Squish rabbit by Katherine Battersby
- The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle
Books about children, families and everyday life
- Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day by Judith Viorst
- Aussie toddlers can by Magabala Books
- Maddy’s first day by Penny Matthews
- Me and my dad by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
- Za-Za’s baby brother by Lucy Cousins
- Our library by Donna Rawlins
Books with quirky characters
- Naughty agapanthus by Barbara Macfarlane
- Olivia by Ian Falconer and others in this series
- When Billy was a dog by Kirsty Murray
Books about the world
- A is for Australia by Frane Lessac
- Are we there yet? by Alison Lester
- Early learning big book of Australian nature by Steve Parish
- Heads and tails: insects by John Canty
- The rice bag hammock by Shaeeza Haniff
- The wheels on the bus by Penny Dann
Why not visit your local library? It’s free to join and borrow books. The staff will be able to recommend books for you and your child to enjoy. Many libraries also offer free story time sessions for children and their parents or carers.
Or if your child attends child care, kindergarten or preschool, you could talk to your child’s educators to get ideas. Some preschools allow children to borrow books each week or to bring a special book from home to share with the group.