Benefits of Early Literacy: Why Read to Your Baby?

Jun 15, 2023

Every baby is a little bundle of possibilities. One of the best ways to ensure your little one is set up to reach their full potential is to read to them every day. And there’s no such thing as an early reading age limit! Even newborns can reap the benefits from early reading, like cognitive development and a deeper bond with their parents or caregivers.

At United Way, our mission is to improve individual lives by harnessing the power of community to advance the common good — and early literacy benefits all of us by building better lives from the ground up.

Here’s your guide to understanding the specific benefits of early literacy for your family, plus our suggestions for where to find free books to read to your infant or toddler.  

How Early Reading Benefits Your Kid for Life

Does early reading predict academic success? According to a recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading aloud to your child from birth helps build key language, literacy and social skills — which typically lead to greater achievements in school and beyond.

Our Bold Goal No. 1 focuses on getting children ready to enter the formal education environment with the skills they need to succeed. When you make reading together a part of your kid’s everyday experience, you’re starting them down the path toward high school graduation and, potentially, more advanced education.

The early learning benefits you can give your child through daily reading sessions include:

Deeper Parental Bonding

When you read aloud to your infant, they become familiar with the sound of your voice and develop feelings of reassurance. As your child grows, a regularly scheduled reading time gives them a sense of continuity that builds trust. Showering your full attention on your kid during one-on-one reading time creates feelings of intimacy and security that are crucial to healthy development. Plus, the shared activity of reading together deepens your bond with ongoing conversations about the characters or storylines — which can blossom into discussions of real-life issues and relationships as the years go by.

Broader Vocabulary

We talk differently than we write. Spoken language is often peppered with incomplete sentences, slang terms and extemporaneous sounds, all underscored by gestures and facial expressions. Written language, on the other hand, relies on greater precision — and therefore requires a broader set of words to communicate complex ideas. Early reading benefits infants and toddlers by exposing them to a wide variety of words they might never have encountered in everyday conversations. And that primes their brains for developing a broad, rich vocabulary.

More Articulated Speech

As you read aloud to your child, they absorb your pronunciation of words and the rhythm of grammatical sentences. Babies’ brains are incredibly active, and the sound of your voice reading to them stimulates the parts of their brain that are trying to figure out how to communicate through language. This can help them pick up on the meaning of words and phrases they hear in other situations, as well as helping them learn how to speak in a way that others can understand.

A Foundation for Logical Thinking

It may seem that logic is too advanced a topic for infants and toddlers. But early reading lays the foundation for life skills like problem-solving, decision-making and reasoning. That’s because following a storyline requires an understanding of the logic of action (or inaction) leading to consequences, the logical sequence of time, the logic of choosing one course of action over another to solve a conflict. When you and your child read together daily, your child reaps these early literacy benefits by developing a framework for logical thinking — which continues to be useful and beneficial throughout life.

Prep for Learning How to Write

As your child bonds with you, develops a vocabulary, absorbs your speech patterns and begins to understand logic through your reading time together, they are also preparing to become writers. Learning how to write is key to advancing through the educational system, and a familiarity with books from an early reading age can make that journey easier. Early reading materials tend to combine written words with vivid, colorful images, so your kid will naturally start making the link between the picture, the sound of your voice and the inky black letters. This helps get them familiar with the visual symbols of written language, which will make writing seem less foreign when the time comes.

Exposure to Different People, Places and Ideas

A child’s imagination is nearly limitless. One of the most wondrous benefits of early literacy is seeing how they interpret the stories you share through the lens of that imagination. Books can take you anywhere without buying a ticket, packing a bag or leaving your home. The two of you can read about people who look different from your family, exotic animals and their strange abilities, civilizations from the recent or distant past, and even entire make-believe worlds where impossibilities seem commonplace. Early reading benefits your child — and you — by widening their ideas of what’s possible, supporting their creativity and helping them dream bigger than their immediate environment.

A Lifelong Love of Learning

Perhaps the most valuable of the early literacy benefits is an enduring passion for learning new things. Bonding with your little one over books and stories turns learning into a pleasurable experience that they’re more likely to continue as they grow up. When you show your kid that you value reading enough to share it with them every day, they learn to enjoy and value it as well — creating a life-long love of broadening their knowledge through books and reading. And that is truly the golden ticket to a successful life.

How to Access Early Reading Materials

Money should never be a barrier to the benefits of early literacy. Here are four ways to access early reading materials to share with your kid without spending money.

Public Libraries

Local libraries are indispensable for helping people from all walks of life gain access to books, newspapers, magazines and a wide array of other resources. Obtaining a library card typically requires nothing more than showing a photo ID and completing a short application. Then you’ll be able to browse hundreds — perhaps thousands — of books to read with your child. If you’re uncertain how to select early reading age-appropriate materials, a librarian will be happy to help you.

United Way Imagination Library

Want to have free children’s books mailed to your home every month? The United Way Imagination Library program does exactly that. This 100% free program — no subscription fees, no shipping charges, no money required at all — has already sent more than one million books to kids in Ohio. The only requirement is that you reside in Summit or Medina County, and that your child be between newborn and the Imagination Library age limit of 5. Once you complete a simple Imagination Library sign-up form either in person or online, we’ll start sending books to your home every month. They’ll arrive in your mailbox addressed to your child, so they can feel the anticipation and joy of receiving a special package, just for them. The final book is called, “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” We can’t think of a better way to launch your child into the adventure of formal schooling than with these keepsake-quality early learning materials.

Little Free Libraries and Book Banks

Todd H. Bol learned to love books and reading from his mother. In 2009, he constructed the very first Little Free Library in her honor in Hudson, Wisconsin. Since then, these free community book exchanges have popped up in neighborhoods across the country. Anyone can take a book or leave a book for others — and anyone can start one, including you and your child.

Book banks, stocked with books and early reading materials for all ages, have also cropped up in communities across the country, often initiated by parents struggling to find free books for their own kids. They typically partner with schools, community nonprofits or other organizations to collect donated books and make them available either for free or for the cost of shipping. One local example is The Bookshelf, sponsored by Project LEARN of Medina County.

Digital Books in Multiple Languages

Nothing can compare to the multisensory experience of a good old-fashioned hard-copy book. But digital early reading materials also have their place, especially for bilingual households. Unite for Literacy is a publishing company that offers hundreds of e-books online for free that are early reading age-appropriate and available in both English and Spanish. Whether your family already speaks Spanish at home or you’re eager to start your child’s second-language learning as early as possible, these digital options bring early literacy benefits directly to your computer screen.

Early Reading With United Way’s Imagination Library

Spark a passion for reading in your child with the United Way Imagination Library and these other early reading material resources. Every time you share a book with your kid, you help them see the world — and their own mind — in a new and bigger way. United Way of Summit and Medina Counties is committed to improving your family’s life by supporting communities in a multitude of ways. Get involved today and become part of the solution that’s creating a brighter future for all of us.

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