When, what, and how long to read based on the age of a child

When, what, and how long to read based on the age of a child

Many parents ask themselves when the right time is to start reading to their child, at what age, and what books to choose. Naturally it is important to remember that every child is unique, and that children go through different stages of development. Let's therefore look at the following recommendations, which are based on the results of scientific studies and are generalised to individual age categories.

0 – 1 years

0 means from the very moment of birth. You may be asking yourself, does it even make sense to read to a newborn at this age? The answer is definitely yes! On the contrary, one ought to get hold of some children's books for older children (which of course will be re-used later in the process as well). Newborns, and toddlers under the age of six months do not perceive the content of the story just yet, but reading to them helps them listen to the rhythm of the language, trains their ear, and makes it easier for them to pay attention to longer sentences later. From the sixth month, the child becomes interested in the books themselves, but still not yet in the content. They see a book as a toy, as a subject of research and manipulation. When reading to them, use fabric books, books with pictures, and books with many colours, textures, sounds, buttons, etc. It is perfectly normal for them to manipulate these books while reading, and to bite, crunch up, or throw the entire thing. Just do not stop "reading". When there is more than one image on the page, point to what you are talking about and describe what is in the image. Such books help children learn their first words, and understand concepts such as quantity, colours, and activities.

In their first year of development, a child's brain is like a "sponge". It is also great for the child to read in a foreign language, because later it will be much easier for them to learn this language based on the recorded melody, rhythm, sound of the foreign language.

1 – 2 years

At this age, children's nursery rhymes are the most suitable due to their natural rhythm. It is easier for a child to learn new vocabulary when you make a pause before saying something important, which is made possible by the rhythms in the rhymes. Books should be colourful, with pictures, and have thicker pages so that the child can handle them more easily. Also, start with dialog reading. This is a technique in which a parent and a child talk about what is in the book. Dialogue helps children consolidate their first bits of vocabulary. Ask where the specific objects are and ask the child to show the object, then continue with the next questions. For example: "Where's the ladybug?", wait until the child points to the ladybug and then continue. "The ladybug is sitting on a flower." Research has shown that the more dialogue a child under the age of two has, the better language skills they have at the age of 13.

2 – 3 years

At this age, a child is ready for books with more complex pictures and stories. The best are books that describe something that is familiar to the child, e.g. walking to the park, playground, visiting grandparents, swimming, etc. Naturally, some children are more active and are not interested in sitting motionless in front of a book. For them, one may consider using interactive books that involve the child in the activity (electronic ones, with activities, sliding one, books with pictures that can be pulled out, books which make sounds, with buttons, etc.). When your child feels that they know the story after a few re-readings, ask them what happens next. You can link the text to real situations in the child's life. At the same time, listen to what your child is saying and expand their statements with a longer phrase, e.g. "The cat is sleeping," as an expanded statement can be, "Yes, the cat is sleeping on a brown pillow." This will help children learn new words and grammar faster.

3 – 4 years

A child prefers real stories with a simple storyline. Use a book in which the character has a certain problem that they are trying to solve and in which the story ends happily. Preferably look at books that have around 3-4 sentences per page. At this age, you can already introduce your child to non-fiction books with their favourite topics (space, dinosaurs, human body, etc.). If there are multiple images on the page, point to the specific image you are reading about. If there is only one image on the page, point to the text, which helps the child learn to read from left to right. If you come across a word that the child does not know while reading, stop and describe it as simply as possible in words that the child knows, using comparisons or real-life examples. Also, stop at the emotions, talk to the child about what the character is feeling at that moment. This is very important for the child and the development of their emotional intelligence, because emotions and inner moods are very complicated for them to understand. Discuss the concepts of thinking, love, faith, desire, jealousy, etc. Offer the child examples and connect them to real situations in the child's life.

4 – 5 years

Your child goes from simple stories to more complex ones, where there are more characters, problems, plots, and emotions, with an emphasis on opposites. Books have 4 to 9 sentences per page, with fewer pictures. At this age, it is very important for the child to gradually understand the meaning of the text, and why the words are important. Focus more on the text. Use books where some words are replaced by pictures. Have the child complete the words shown in the picture while reading to understand the meaning of the text. Again, you encourage the perception of reading text from left to right, top to bottom. At the same time, ask what follows in the story so that the child begins to think of the story as a sequence of events, which helps to develop the skills of perceiving time.

6 years+

Even though the child can read independently at this age, the main rule is "Don't stop reading to your child!". During this time, most people stop reading the child out loud. Although the child is now reading independently, they often start with very simple books that do not support the further development of their vocabulary, deepening of understanding, development of emotional intelligence as well as positive factors of reading. For them, reading is just a practice of skill. Read books containing a few chapters without pictures. It's a way to show a child more complicated stories with interesting plots, as well as more complicated sentence structure. Keep talking about what you read and connect with the child's real-life situations.

If you're interested in the recommended number of words for each age group:

0 – 3 years - 300 words

3 – 4 years - 500 words

5 – 6 years - 1000 words

6 – 7 years - 3000-5000 words 

Remember! The most important thing is to have fun and experience joy while reading. Reading should be a fun experience at any age!



Milne, V. 2020. An age-by-age guide to reading to your kids. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/reading-to-kids-age-by-age-guide/#gallery/books-for-age-6-and-up/slide-4

Niamh, R. 2017. Children’s Books: Age Categories and Word Counts. https://www.writing.ie/guest-blogs/childrens-books-age-categories-and-word-counts/

Shore, R. 1997. Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. Families and Work Inst., New York, NY. 1997

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