Raising strong readers

Raising strong readers

In a world full of digital distraction and scheduled enrichment, what can parents and educators do to promote the timeless pleasure of reading a book for fun?

Stack of booksHarvard Graduate School of Education faculty members Joe Blatt, Nonie Lesaux, and Catherine Snow distilled a comprehensive body of literacy research into a short guidebook titled Encouraging Your Child to Read. Here are their age-appropriate suggestions:


What to know:

Babies learn language while being held and cared for by adults who repeat words to them; tell them stories; laugh and smile with them; and respond to their noises, smiles, and burps.

When you read to your baby, she’s learning. Plus, she begins to connect reading with what she loves most — being with you!

How to help:

Talk to your baby! Repeat nursery rhymes, sing songs, play peek-a-boo, and respond to her needs with soothing words.

Take advantage of everyday moments to talk about the world around you. Tell her stories while she is being changed, in the bath, in her stroller, or being held. She needs to hear your voice and learn about things that she sees.

Read board books with faces, animals, and objects that you can talk about with your baby, then add lift-the-flap books when reading with your 1-year-old.

When talking to your child, use the language(s) that are most comfortable for you, so that she hears lots of different words and ideas.


Uses her voice to express her feelings (laughing, crying)

Imitates speech by saying things like “na-na, da-da”

Understands several simple phrases

At 1 year, can say one or more words

Looks at books


What to know:

Children become “readers” before they learn to read. Enjoying books together now will help them enjoy books later.

When children have lots of opportunities to talk and listen, they are building important language skills.

How to help:

Listen to your child talk and encourage her to say more. Ask her questions, show interest in what she says, and help her learn new words and ideas.

When you are with your child, limit distractions like phone calls and television. Instead, talk, read, and play together. Consider borrowing books from the library.

Make books a part of the daily routine. Special reading time might be before bed, during a meal, or while you are riding the bus.

Give your child paper and crayons so she can “write.” Ask her to explain what is happening in her picture or story. Help her think of more ideas to add.


At 2 years, can say 250–350 words

At 3 years, can say 800–1000 words

Says common rhymes, imitates the tone and sounds of adults speaking, and asks to be read to

Enjoys listening to predictable, familiar books and joins in when it is time to say a repeated phrase in the story


What to know:

Learning lots of words from birth helps to make preschoolers readers for life.

Children become “writers” before they learn to write. Children’s scribbles, pictures, and attempts at writing alphabet letters are all important beginnings to strong literacy skills.

How to help:

When reading together, encourage your child to talk. Have her “pretend read” the parts she has memorized. Ask her questions and encourage her to say more. Eventually, she might tell more of the story than you do!

Point out words on signs and talk about the letters and sounds. Ask your child to find letters she knows on menus or street signs.
Link the books you read to people, places, and things your child knows or sees when you’re out.

Play with words and sounds by singing, reading, and making up rhymes together. Call attention to words that have similar sounds (“Dad and dance both start with the same sound, d-d-d-d dad, d-d-d-d dance!”)

Have your child tell you stories, and write down what she says. Ask questions that will help her complete the story. Then, read the story you wrote together.


Comfortably uses sentences, plays with words, and learns from conversations and books that are read aloud

Recognizes familiar letters and words such as her name — and attempts to write them

Identifies words that rhyme or have the same beginning sound

Holds a book right-side-up, turns the pages, and understands that pages are read from left to right and from top to bottom


What to know:

Positive reading experiences encourage more reading. The more children read, the better they will read.

Early readers can build their confidence and abilities by rereading books they are very familiar with. Repetition is good!

Reading and talking about nonfiction — not just storybooks — helps younger children learn information and skills that they need for academic success in upper grades.

How to help:

Read and reread your child’s favorite books — electronic or print — and, eventually, she will be able to read them to you.
Listen to your child read and tell you stories. Then, have a conversation about them.

Play board games and card games and talk about what’s happening as you play.

Limit and monitor your child’s computer and television time. During screen time, help choose programs that will both interest her and build knowledge. Ask what she has learned, and find books on these subjects at the local library.

Expose your child to new things and information by taking her to a museum, the zoo, or a different neighborhood. Encourage her to talk about what she sees.


At 5 years, can say 3000–5000 words, speaks using complex and compound sentences, and starts to match letters with sounds.

At 6 years, starts to read words on the page and make predictions while reading, using knowledge, pictures, and text.

At 7 years, starts to read words automatically, and expands knowledge by listening to and reading books


Adapted from research by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and from resources developed by Filming Interactions to Nurture Development. Used with courtesy of Usable Knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—making education research accessible to practitioners and families.