Many of us have heard that we should be regularly reading to or with our children but what exactly are the key benefits of children regularly having exposure to a range of books? And what are some strategies which parent’s and carers can use to support children’s early literacy development?

Pre-literacy Skills

Literacy is simply defined as the ability to read and write. Before children reach this stage, there are a range of pre-literacy skills children can learn to help support their reading and writing development. These skills include; attending to a book being read to them, understanding that print has meaning, knowing the meaning of a range of words, knowing letter sounds.

No matter the age of a child (or adult for that matter!) regular engagement with books has a range of positive benefits. Additionally, a child is never too young to interact with books. When a baby first starts engaging with books, they may place the book in their mouth, turn the book around the wrong way or quickly flick through the pages in a random order. This is all to be expected as a baby first starts exploring books and participates in the process of being read to. At this stage you can support your baby’s early literacy skills by turning the book around the right way, model turning pages of the book and pointing to and commenting on pictures.

As toddlers develop, shared book reading becomes an important way to support the development of  communication and engagement skills. Shared book reading is an interactive reading experience when parents turn book reading into a back and forth conversation about the book, rather than simply reading each page word for word. This way of book reading provides lots of opportunities for toddlers to hear new words and practice using those words in context. The benefits of shared book reading with toddlers includes improving vocabulary development, improving parent-child interaction, and increasing print awareness.

Some important points to consider when engaging in shared book reading with your toddler or young child:

  • Sit comfortably where you can see the book and look at your child at their level.
  • Turn book reading into a conversation by commenting on what your child is interested in on each page in the book.
  • Focus on the interaction rather than focusing on just reading each page word for word.
  • Repeat what your child says and expand on the words to make it a short sentence.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to take turns in the book reading by waiting, looking at your child or asking the occasional open-ended question.
  • Teach, don’t test! Provide lots of comments, rather than continually asking your child questions.

Book Selection

Appropriate book selection is important to increase engagement of children within the overall shared reading process. Where possible, provide your child with a few choices of books. Allowing children to often select the books they want read to them ensures that your child is involved within the shared book reading process and more motivated to engage with the book for longer.

Types of books which toddlers commonly enjoy include:

  • Books with interactive components such as lift the flap, mirrors or touch-and-feel books.
  • Books that children have made themselves such books with photos of themselves of familiar locations.
  • Books with repetitive words or sentences and alliteration. Examples of books with repetitive content include ; Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, Who sank the Boat by Pamela Allen and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.
  • Books with bright and engaging pictures or drawings

Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards 2020

If you are still not sure what types of books to start reading with your child, you can turn to Speech Pathology Australia, the national peak body for the speech pathology profession in Australia, to help with your book selection. Speech Pathology Australia holds an annual award to showcase the importance of quality Australian books to develop children’s language and literacy skills. Books are selected based off appeal to children, use of appropriate language, interactive quality, and presentation. The 2020 winners “Best Book for Language and Literacy Development” in the categories below are:

  • Birth to 3 years – Meerkat Splash, written and illustrated by Aura Parker
  • 3 to 5 years – Charlie’s Shell, written and illustrated by Marina Zlatanova
  • 5 to 8 years – Goat on a Boat, written by Nick Dent and illustrated by Suzanne Houghton
  • 8 to 10 years – The Little Wave, written by Pip Harry
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Authored Children’s Book Award – Culture and Me, written and illustrated by Gregg Dreise

More information about the awards can be found here.

No matter the age of your baby or toddler, shared book reading is a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your little one but most importantly have fun! Enjoy reading these books or similar titles and see what your child thinks!

Speech Pathologists Can Help

If you are concerned with your child’s speech, language or communication development, a Speech Pathologist is wonderfully positioned to help determine if it is something to be concerned about and what can be done to support them effectively. You can either talk to your GP or Paediatrician who may refer you to a suitable health professional such as a Speech Pathologist, or you can go directly to a Speech Pathologist yourself. Beam Health has Speech Pathologists that are experienced in supporting children and young people with speech, language and communication concerns and there are many other wonderful Speech Pathologists around that you can go to.

Get in touch


Flack, Z. M., Field, A. P, & Horst, J. (2017). The effects of shared storybook reading on word learning: a meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/dev0000512.

Lowry, L. (Sharing Books with Pre-schoolers, the Hanen Way. Retrieved from The Hanen Centre website:,-the-Hanen-Way.aspx.

Rebecca Gillogly

Speech Pathologist, Beam Health

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