[Skip to Content]

Story Time for Preschoolers


Moving Toward School and Reading

Preschoolers know many things they didn't know as babies. They don't read by themselves, but if they've been read to a lot, they know a lot about reading, such as:

  • Books are read from front to back.
  • Pictures should be right-side up.
  • Reading is done from left to right.
  • The language of books is different from spoken language.
  • Words have different sounds in them.
  • There are familiar and unfamiliar words.
  • Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

All of these are early literacy skills — important building blocks toward the day when they'll read by themselves. How can you support development of these skills? Keep reading aloud.

Picking many different books to read aloud will build your preschooler's vocabulary, and help your child learn about different topics. Your child will learn that:

  • Text are words written down.
  • Letters in a specific order form a word.
  • There are spaces between words.

This information will help when kids start learning to read in school.

When and How to Read

Many kids this age go to childcare centers or preschools. Read-aloud time can be a chance to slow down and spend time together.

Make time to read together at home too. Before bed works well, as do other "down" times in the day, like first thing in the morning or after meals. Your child will enjoy cuddling with you, hearing your voice, and feeling loved.

Kids between 3 and 5 years old want to show off what they know and love to be praised. Continue to choose some books with simple plots and repetitive text (e.g., "Brown bear, brown bear...") that your child can learn and retell. Encourage your child to "read" to you and praise the attempts.

Other tips:

  • Yes, read that book over and over again — and try not to sound bored. Your child is mastering many skills with each re-reading.
  • When looking at a new book, introduce it. Look at the cover and talk about what it might be about. Say the author's name and talk about what an author does.
  • Move your fingers under the words as you read to show the connection between what you are saying and the text.
  • When you come to familiar or repetitive lines, pause and let your child finish them. ("I do not like green eggs and....I do not like them, Sam....")
  • Ask your child to point out letters or words he or she might know. Sometimes point to words and sound them out slowly while your child watches.
  • Ask your child why a character did something.
  • Talk about the parts of the story — how did it begin? What happened in the middle? What did you think of the ending?
  • Ask what part of the story your child liked best and why.

While it's important to ask your child some hard questions, your top goal should be to enjoy reading and have fun. Don't make reading a book like a test your child needs to pass. Look at the pictures, make up new words together, and be playful and relaxed.

Also, remember that reading comes to different kids at different times. Some kids fall in love with books earlier than others. So if your child doesn't seem as interested right away, just keep reading and showing how wonderful it can be.

Remember these three key phrases: Read with me! Talk with me! Have fun with me! These three things can help your child on the road to reading success.

The Best Books for Busy Minds

Preschoolers like books that tell stories. They also can turn pages and sit still, so longer picture books are a good choice. Continue reading books with repetitive lines and familiar words, but also include those with a richer vocabulary and plots that are more complicated. Consider reading chapter books that take more than one sitting to finish.

Kids are curious and like reading books about other kids who look and act like them, but also want stories with kids who live in different places and do different things. Expose your child to many characters and talk about how they act and what choices they make. Include talking animals, monsters, and fairies to stimulate your child's imagination.

Reinforce positive feelings about something your child learned to do (kick a soccer ball, paint a picture) by reading books about kids who have done the same thing. Help your child talk about fears and worries by reading books about going to the doctor or dentist, starting a new school, or dealing with a bully.

For example, books about going to school — especially when kids are about to start preschool or kindergarten — are a great choice, as are books about making friends. And pick books that will challenge your child and help build skills. Alphabet books, counting books, or books with lots of new words are all good choices.

Pick nonfiction books that talk about something of interest to your child — owls, the ocean, dinosaurs, the moon — especially if the book has great illustrations. And don't forget poetry — preschoolers still love rhymes. This age group is starting to enjoy jokes, so silly poems or songs will be a huge hit.

Wordless picture books that tell a story only with illustrations are also great. After the two of you have been through a wordless book a couple of times, your child will most likely begin telling you the story — and may even be found "reading" the story to favorite stuffed animals or dolls.

Try homemade books too — photo albums with captions and scrapbooks excite preschoolers. When your child makes drawings, ask him or her to tell you what they are, label them, and then put them into a "book" that you can read together. Have fun creating book covers so that they will last for years.

Books aren't the only things your preschooler will love to read — magazines with lots of pictures also are enjoyable. And ask people your child loves to send letters, postcards, texts, or e-mails. Read these together and keep them in a special box where your child can look at them.

Other Ways to Encourage Book Time

Read-aloud isn't the only time your child can spend with books — preschoolers love to choose and look at books on their own. Keep books in a basket on the floor or on a low shelf where your child can reach them easily and look at them alone. Keep some books in the car and always have a few in your bag for long visits to the doctor or lines at the post office.

At this age, encourage independent reading by putting a reading lamp next to your child’s bed so your child can look at books for a little while before going to sleep. And kids who have just given up naps can be encouraged to spend quiet time looking at books on their own.

Most important of all: Remember to let your child catch you reading for enjoyment. Turn off the TV, pull out a book, and curl up on the couch where your child can see you — and join you with his or her own favorite book.

Date reviewed: September 2018

More on this topic for: