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How to Stimulate a Child's Mind

Reading to a Child

By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books.
By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Besides providing hours of enjoyment and a storehouse of knowledge and memories of story time that last a lifetime, reading helps your child develop four basic thinking skills: the ability to pay attention, a good memory, capability in problem solving, and proficiency in language. The single best way you can encourage your child to love books and reading is to read aloud to her. Where reading is concerned, you can't start too early; you can't continue too long. Reading experts recommend you start reading to your child at birth and continue into the teenage years, perhaps in family sessions.

Your infant does not understand the words you read, and indeed, you need not even read children's stories. A parenting book, the daily newspaper, or a new novel are equally enchanting to your baby, who loves the sound of your voice and the concentration of your attention. If you love poetry, read it to your infant and continue to read it as the child grows. Many children love the rhythm and cadence of adult poetry long before they can understand it.


Thirty minutes a day is a reasonable amount of time to spend reading to your child, probably divided into a few short sessions for a small child. Any time of day is good for reading. Most parents like to make it part of the bedtime ritual; it's a way to help a child relax and get ready for sleep. Morning, at the breakfast table, is another favorite time for many parents and children. The main point is to take the time for reading and to make it an important part of your daily routine. By reading regularly to your child, you will aid the development of his reading skills and cultivate his love of books. On this page we will provide suggestions on reading to your child: when and what to read, where to find books, and how to avoid some reading don'ts.

Introducing a Child to Books

Thousands of children's books are available. Many of the best children's books have been around for years. With so many books on the market, it makes sense that only the best ones survive over time. One way to sort through them is to ask your local children's librarian for suggestions and get the name of the local retailer who has the best selection of children's books. If you're fortunate enough to have access to a university library that has a noncirculating children's collection, you'll be able to read the latest and most popular children's books before you buy them. Though your local library will have these, too, they will often be circulating and unavailable.

Your child's first books should be short, simple picture books, brightly illustrated. They should be small enough for a baby to handle, and toughly constructed of cloth or cardboard because children will chew them, pull them apart, and throw them. Your child will be two years of age or older before she begins to take care of books; until then she'll treat them as toys, so you may want to buy inexpensive editions of most. Be sure the books you buy for even the youngest child are well written, not artificial sounding, and well illustrated. Otherwise, they bore you, and your child catches your feeling.

Read it again! At about two years of age, your child begins to appreciate books. Besides beginning to take good care of them, she has figured out how they work -- from front to back, from left to right -- and has learned to turn the pages one at a time. Your toddler has memorized some stories and nursery rhymes, can recite surprisingly long sections or whole verses, and can "read" along with you. She insists you read the same book over and over and over, and she catches you if you don't do it justice every time or if you skip a word or change a name.

Comfort yourself with the knowledge that when you read these stories over and over you are fulfilling a necessary function in your child's development: Experts say repetition is a stimulator of interest and important to the process whereby brain cells make connections. When children are between the ages of two and three, they enjoy stories that involve some kind of confrontation, such as "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." At this age, children also like stories about holidays and seasons because this helps them understand family traditions.

Tell your own stories. One way to stimulate your child's interest in reading and to supplement the reading material you have on hand is to tell her your own stories. A story can be as long or as short as the time you have to tell it, and you can tailor it especially for your child. It can be about a toy or the family pet, a picnic or a walk in the woods, a little boy or girl just like yours with a parent just like you. Whatever the topic, make your story lively: Have something happen right in the beginning, and keep the action moving. Don't be afraid to use some words your child doesn't understand because hearing new words is the way she expands her vocabulary. It's fine to have your main character struggle against fierce odds, but be sure to give your story a happy ending. Until your child is older, fairness must prevail; the good must win, and the bad must lose.

Books From the Library

Your child will probably own ten or more books of his own by age two, and it is at about this time you need to supplement the supply with books from the library. At first you may find it easiest and best to visit the library alone so you can take your time selecting the books that best suit your child's interests and level of understanding. But take your child with you sometimes; the weekly or biweekly library habit is one you want to start early and encourage forever. Continue to choose some of the books you'll read to your child, but let your child pick some out, too, even if they don't seem appropriate to you.

Unfortunately, not all libraries allow children younger than school age to have library cards; if yours does, help your child sign up for his own -- having one's own library card is a sure sign of growing up. Check into other privileges and services the children's department of your library offers. At toddler story periods of 30 minutes or so (to which a parent accompanies each child), librarians sometimes read very short stories and lead the children in finger plays and action singing games. Regular story hours and other programs are often available for children two or three years old. Story hour also offers an opportunity for your child to interact with other children.

Reading Don'ts

  • Don't continue to read a book once it is obvious your child doesn't like it.
  • Don't use reading as a reward or punishment. It should be an activity you do every day, whether your child has been an angel or something less.
  • Don't start reading a long book when you know you won't have time to do it justice. Every book deserves a good reading, and children aren't ready for continued stories until they are four or five.
  • Don't feel your child must sit quietly beside you or in your lap while you read. An active child may be able to listen better while she colors or strings beads.

Selecting the Best Books for Your Child

You'll want to expose your child to a variety of books, but you will notice before long she develops definite preferences. One child likes exciting stories with true-to-life characters, another loves anything silly, and still another prefers fantasy. Of course, tastes change as a child is exposed to different kinds of books and to different experiences in daily life. For example, your three year old, who understands perfectly the difference between being naughty and behaving well, enjoys books about mischievous children for a while. If you're expecting a new baby, your toddler or preschooler will want to see a lot of books about how babies are born and what it's like to have a little brother or sister.

Your librarian and the clerks in bookstores can lead you to the books virtually all children appreciate. Some are brand new, some relatively new, and some so old your own parents knew them as children. Among the latter, and probably some of your own favorites, are the classic fairy tales -- beautifully illustrated stories about unforgettable characters such as the wicked witch who tries to cook the children and the dragons that threatened the castle. Some parents believe fairy tales are too violent for children at any age, but librarians and reading experts recommend them for children six years of age or older who can understand the difference between reality and fantasy.

No periodicals specifically for children three years of age and younger are available, but your child will find the adult magazines and catalogs that come into your home interesting. Look through them with your child, pointing out pictures of babies, grandparents, animals, foods, and toys. With those pictures, you can make up scrapbooks your child will cherish, and when the child is about three years old, she can select the pictures and help you with the cutting and pasting.

By experiencing stories at an early age, your child will develop a lifetime appreciation for the magic of the written word. In addition, kids acquire memory, concentration, language and problem-solving skills that will serve them well in school and beyond. Encouraging creativity will also enhance their problem-solving skills, and you'll find different make-believe games to do with your child in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.