This blog was contributed by Ruth Heuvelman (CED-group, the Netherlands).
Reading is very good for language development, and especially for infants. According to research, you cannot start early enough. You can even start to read to babies aged around 3 to 4 months. If you start to read at an early age, the child will still benefit from it at a later age.
Higher scores on language and vocabulary
“BoekStart” is a program that encourages children from 0 to 4 years old and their parents to read books together. It arose from the idea that reading a book together strengthens the bond between parent and child and that you cannot start reading together early enough and was inspired by BookStart in the UK []. One of the research questions in the Dutch BoekStart study was whether the language of children developed faster as a consequence of engaging in shared book reading with parents. Furthermore, it was researched which children benefit the most from it.
The results showed that infants who are read to before they are eight months old had higher literacy scores. At 15 months these children already had better vocabulary and the benefits of starting early with book reading were even more pronounced at 22 months.
Shared book reading is an important stimulus for language development. Books contain pictures and words that you might not see or use in everyday life. Reading those words to children increases the children’s vocabulary. Furthermore, parents often use more complex language when reading than in play []. Engaging early in shared book reading with children can thus increase their chance of having a larger vocabulary in toddlerhood.
Higher scores for infants with a difficult temperament
The research also showed that infants with a ‘difficult’ temperament benefitted from Boekstart []. Children with a more difficult temperament, who cry a lot during daily activities, are generally being read to less often than children with an ‘easy’ temperament. The researchers assume that parents of these children are aware that their interactions with their child are not optimal and that they are looking for solutions to the problems they experience with their child through participation in BoekStart.
Because of BoekStart, these parents were more inclined to read to their children, despite the ‘more difficult’ behavior of the infant. As a result, differences between children with a ‘difficult’ temperament and an ‘easier’ temperament disappeared: children with a ‘more difficult’ temperament were read to as often as children with an ‘easier’ temperament. These children with a ‘more difficult’ temperament benefitted the most from BoekStart and had higher scores on vocabulary than children with a ‘difficult’ temperament who did not participate in the BoekStart program.
Shared book reading has lasting positive effects on reading performance and reading motivation
The first important phase in reading development takes place in the early years of life, during the early childhood period. It is during this period that the foundation is laid for language and reading development and for the reading pleasure of young children. And not only infants, but also toddlers and preschoolers who are read to and talked to a lot have a head start in their language development []. They will continue to benefit form that for the rest of their lives. Reading to young children therefore has lasting positive effects on reading performance and reading motivation.
Provide a stimulating reading environment
To make sure that young children are being read to and start to read themselves when they are older, it is important to create a stimulating environment. Make sure that there are books, withing reach of the children, that match their experiences and interests. Support children in choosing and reading the books. As a parent, pedagogical professional, or teacher you play an important role in this. Provide an attractive reading area in your group where children can easily access the books themselves. Also, provide a daily reading moment. You can also implement this in the daily routine, for example before going to sleep, while eating and drinking or at the end of the day. Furthermore, make it fun! This teaches children that reading books is fun. This way you can lay the foundation for a lifetime of reading pleasure.
The five benefits of reading to infants summarized:
- Children learn that reading is fun, which increases the chance that they will read themselves when they are older.
- Reading to infants with a ‘difficult’ temperament can increase their vocabulary scores.
- Shared book reading creates a stronger bond between the adult and the child.
- Children who are read to regularly have a larger vocabulary.
- Reading to young children has lasting positive effects on reading performance and reading motivation.
 De Bondt, M., Willenberg, I. A., Bus, A. G. (2020). Do book giveaway programs promote the home literacy environment and children’s literacy-related behavior and skills? Review of Educational Research, 90, 349-379.
 In Europe and around the world there are several programs related to the original BookStart program. An overview of these programs can be found on: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/about-us/booktrust-affiliates/affiliates-in-europe/
 Demir-Lira, Ö. E., Applebaum, L. R., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2019). Parents’ early book reading to children: Relation to children’s later language and literacy outcomes controlling for other parent language input. Developmental Science, 22.
 Van den Berg, H., & Bus, A. G. (2014). Beneficial effects of BookStart in temperamentally highly reactive infants. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 69-75.
 Moore, M. & Wade, B. (2003). Bookstart: A qualitative evaluation. Educational Review, 55, 3-13.