Want to set a solid foundation for your children’s academic future? Read to them multiple times a day, and they’ll enter kindergarten having heard more than a million words.
A study from The Ohio State University found that young children who are read to five times daily (it’s OK if books are repeated!) will hear nearly 1.5 million words by the time they turn 5 — boosting their language development and setting a strong foundation for school success.
Researchers randomly chose 30 of the most circulated board books and 30 of the most circulated picture books, as identified by the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and tallied up the number of words in each book. According to their findings, board books contained an average of 140 words, while picture books contained an average of 228 words.
With these averages, the researchers calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through age 5 with a mix of board books and picture books. Based on their calculations, kids who were read to once or twice a week would hear 63,570 words, while children who were read to three to five times a week would hear 169,520 words. Daily reading would result in 296,660 words, and five books a day would result in a whopping 1,483,300 words heard by age 5!
Though children’s picture and board books showcase a simpler set of vocabulary than, say, a title from the Harry Potter series, many contain words that are rarely found in everyday conversations. The picture book Fancy Nancy and the Sensational Babysitter, for instance, introduces children to words like agenda, ensemble, melancholy, demonstrate, and of course, sensational. That’s why reading is so important for language exposure — everyday conversation is typically not as rich in vocabulary as books, even those books for the littlest of readers.
Additionally, the “extra-texual” talk after a reading, during which parents discuss a book with their little ones, can further enhance a child’s vocabulary. (Here are some storytime questions that will get you started.) Though children may not fully understand every single word they hear, this early exposure prepares them for future instances when they may encounter these words in print, such as at school.
Five readings a day may seem like a lofty goal, but the best way to get started is to build your home library with a variety of books that both you and your little one love — and to engage with extra-textual conversations after reading.
There’s no better time to refresh your bookshelf with read-alouds, because World Read Aloud Day is February 5! This annual advocacy day is presented by global literacy nonprofit LitWorld and sponsored by Scholastic, and unites people around the world by highlighting the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. To take part, grab a book with your child and read aloud — and learn more about World Read Aloud Day here.
There are a number of inexpensive ways to expand your book collection: Browse our selection of vocabulary builders below, or check out these expert-approved books for beginners or amazing and inspiring reads under $9. You can also get popular suggestions from our book lists for kids ages 3 to 5.