Whether it begins early in the day, around midday, or late in the afternoon, reading out loud to children every day is the single most important thing you can do to help build literacy skills. Here are some ways to read aloud to children at different ages and stages.

Reading With Babies

Reading to babies is a special art. Start by saying enthusiastically, "Oh! What's that?" Respond to the baby's words or babblings by giving feedback, such as, "Yes, you're right. It's a bunny." More often than not, children will repeat your words (or try to). The best follow-up is to extend their words by saying, "That's right, it's a bunny, and look at his funny tail!" You're helping them identify new words and understand their meanings.

Sharing Books With Toddlers

Toddlers crave books with silly rhymes, rhythms, and patterns, and they love to join in as you read. Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop is a natural for encouraging rhyme and rhythmic language. Especially on the first go round, you might want to read the whole book without stopping to talk about the pictures. In this way, the children hear the rhyme without interruption and learn how words relate to one another.

Enjoying Pattern Books

By the time most children reach preschool, they love to figure out what comes next. Highly engaging books, called predictable or pattern books, encourage children to do this. You might want to try Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

To make the read-aloud more interesting, stop before turning the page. Ask, "What might you see?"

Exploring Illustrations

When you share books with children, begin by showing them the cover and pointing to some of the pictures. Encourage them to guess what the story might be about. You could even emphasize some interesting new words that they've likely encountered as you read the story. For instance: "This book is about Curious George. Curious means being interested in something. What kinds of things have you been curious about recently? How did you find answers to your questions?"

Talk about what it means to be an author and an illustrator. It's also a good idea to read a couple of pages and stop at various points to check children's understanding of the story.

Wrapping It Up

After the last page is turned, prompt children to say what they liked most about the story. Encouraging them to retell some of the tale not only extends their language skills but also makes these stories their own. They become familiar with the most basic structure of literature — beginnings, middles, and ends. These stories, and the important lessons they teach, can become a rich and valuable resource to draw upon for the rest of their lives.