Little boy reading

Getting ready for reading: Inspiring your pre-schooler to love books

By Nicky Sanford

The journey to reading is a magical one and begins from the first time an adult picks up a book in the company of a child.

Children who are surrounded by books and stories, and have adults who read to them, have more opportunities to build on their vocabulary and understanding of the written word.

When to start reading with your child 

At birth! Or even before. It’s never too early to share a story with your child — it can be a very calming and special time.

Even very young babies will enjoy and respond to the ‘sing-song’ voice of stories or nursery rhymes.

Board books or those that clip onto the buggy are a great way to start as they will withstand a little ‘mouthing’ yet many have the colourful pictures and pages to turn that will engage your child.

Age 1 – 2 As your little one is more able to grasp and manipulate objects, allow them to help turn the pages and point out familiar items in the illustrations. Interactive books, such as those with buttons, flaps or holes add another dimension to storytelling and will help to maintain your child’s attention as you read together.

What to try: 10 Little Ladybirds by Melanie Gerth  

Age 2-3  By the age of 2, many children will have a favourite story, one they request again and again… and again!  Hide any reluctance as this type of repetition will help your little one to recognise when to turn the page or may even tell you if you’ve missed out a word or two!

What to try: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

Age 3-4  Between these ages, most children will begin to show more interest in the actual storyline, imagining what is happening and why.  With familiar stories, your child may start to join in with any repeated lines or may fill in any missed words.

What to try: Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

At this age children will also enjoy anticipating what will happen next and will be excited by the storyteller using different voices for different characters.

What to try: Goldilocks and the 3 Bears or The 3 Billy Goats Gruff (Traditional tales)

What else? Children of pre-school age will be building on a range of skills to support their reading and phonics knowledge.


  • As you sit together, try following the words with your finger, helping your child to link the sounds and the words that they hear with the written shapes of letters on the page.
  • Take time as you read to explore the pictures, to ask questions and to talk about the hidden messages within some stories.
  • Illustrations play an important role in learning to read, firstly they help to grab and maintain children’s attention. They may provoke curiousity and give clues about the story or characters, and what might happen next.
  • Once upon a time… understanding how a story is structured will be key for future reading and writing so what better way to learn this than through books?
  • At the end of the book, recap the whole story together and ask your child which part was their favourite and why.
  • Children’s books are ideal for building vocabulary and naming objects and animals – and will be perfect for playing a form of  “I spy." “I spy with my little eye….. something red, an animal, something that hops, something hiding behind a tree”. Older children might enjoy guessing how the story might end, or making up an alternative ending!
  • Encourage your child to re-tell favourite stories in their own words, using their knowledge of a well-loved book, or the illustrations to narrate their own story.

Don't forget about the library

Did you know it is free to join your local library? Children can join from any age and there are no fines to pay for lost or damaged children's books or for late returns. 

Plus lots of library branches still hold rhyme time, singing and story sessions for babies and toddlers as well as summer activities for older children.

Letting children browse shelves of books and choose something for themselves is a great way to inspire a love of books — not to mention a good way to spend a rainy morning.

Local book stores are also a useful source when looking for a new read as staff will know about the latest releases, bestsellers and popular buys.

The beginning of a journey

The journey to reading is one of the most joyous rides — from listener, to participant to storyteller — it lets the imagination grow wild!

A child who wants to be read to, who then wants to journey through a book will soon want to be reading for themselves — a skill they will then be keen to learn. And then a whole new world opens for them.

So one of the most important things that you can teach your child about reading is to love books, any book, new or old, charity shop buys, favourite books again and again, old classics, new classics, comics, magazines or instructions manuals – anything that will build and continue a love of reading right through childhood into adulthood.

Here’s My Top Ten….

The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson

There’s an Ouch in My Pouch – Jeanne Willis

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd

Oi! Frog! – Key Gray

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Peace At Last – Jill Murphy

Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell

The Tiger who Came To Tea – Judith Kerr

Handa’s Surprise – Eileen Browne

Check out our reading list of favourite children's books, as suggested by Family Corner readers, for even more inspiration!

Where next?

Why reading to your child is so important

Read it again!

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