Reading to your child: 3–5 years

Reading to your child: 3–5 years
Reading to your child supports their language development and fosters an interest in reading.

Between the ages of 3 and 5, your child will start understanding increasingly complex stories. For instance, they’ll be able to understand a plot that has a problem and a resolution. They will also begin to take an interest in written language. Books not only help your child develop language skills and prepare them for reading and writing, they also allow you to bond with your little one.

How reading benefits your child

  • Reading stories to your child helps them develop language skills. Stories are particularly helpful for building vocabulary and improving verbal comprehension.
  • Reading encourages interaction between you and your child and promotes bonding.
  • When introduced early, books become a source of entertainment and enjoyment. Your child will associate reading with spending quality time with you. If their first experience with books is at school, where learning to read is a requirement, they may develop a negative association with books and think of reading as a chore.
Children benefit most when they start reading at home. Without your involvement, the benefits of reading are much less significant.
  • Reading sparks an interest in writing. With you by their side, your child subconsciously learns how to interact with a book, picks up new words, and discovers the basics of writing: you write from left to right, words are made up of the letters in the alphabet, etc. They also gradually come to understand that letters represent sounds that can be spoken: this is the foundation of reading and writing.
  • Books foster your child’s imagination and curiosity. Your little one will quickly understand that stories are doors to other worlds.

How to read to your little one

  • Encourage your child to choose the book you’ll read. This way, they’ll be more attentive.
  • Give your child books about their interests, like farms, forests, pirates, animals, or dinosaurs.
  • Read the book exactly as written, as this will introduce your child to a variety of vocabulary. However, don’t hesitate to explain difficult words or rephrase passages that your child doesn’t seem to understand.
  • Take short breaks while reading to talk about what isn’t made explicit in the book: the characters’ emotions, the problem to be solved, the main character’s goal, etc. You can also ask your child questions about different aspects of the story.
  • Look at the cover together and try to guess what the book is about. Tell your child to look at the title and illustrations for hints.
  • Draw your child’s attention to a funny word, or point out a significant letter, like the first letter of their name. This helps your child understand that words are formed by the letters of the alphabet.
  • When you’re done reading, ask your child to come up with an alternate ending or imagine what might happen after the story ends. It’s a great way to feed their imagination and open new horizons. It also encourages them to tell a story in their own words.
  • When possible, draw connections between the story and your child’s daily life to make the information in the book more concrete. For example, if you’re reading a book about insects, you can remind your child of the insects they’ve seen before.
  • Get your child a library card so they can discover the joy of picking out their own books. You can also attend storytelling events at your library. Your little one might enjoy listening to stories with a group of other children.

Choosing a book

Don’t hesitate to expose your child to a variety of books: age-appropriate storybooks, books on their favourite subjects, books with surprising illustrations, game books, interactive or pop-up books, etc. No matter what they read, they’ll learn and have fun!

However, remember that it’s also important to respect your child’s preferences. At this age, they have a better idea of what books they like and dislike.

How does reading improve language skills?

As your child’s language skills develop, they’ll understand more and more of the story. The following signs indicate that your child is developing language skills through books:
  • They understand and use a growing number of words from the stories you read.
  • They ask questions about elements of the story.
  • They retell parts of the story in their own words.
  • They make connections between the information in the story and their life.

How to foster your child’s interest in reading

  • Read books with your child frequently, not just before bed. You can also read before naptime or supper, or even at bathtime from a waterproof book.
Talking about books helps improve your child’s language skills, even if you’re discussing a story they’ve heard 100 times.
  • Agree to read the same book again if that’s what your child wants. It’s normal for kids this age to want to read the same book over and over. The repetition helps them feel secure, and they understand the story better with each new reading.
  • Borrow books from the library regularly or trade books with friends. This way, your child always has access to new books and can develop an interest in particular subjects or genres. Keep reading their favourite books to them as often as they want.
  • Set up a little reading nook in the living room or in your child’s bedroom to get them excited about reading time. Make sure they can reach their books on their own. Add pillows and blankets to their book nook to create a fun, cozy reading environment.
  • Read for enjoyment. You’ll show your child that books are fun and exciting sources of knowledge. As their role model, you are the ideal person to inspire their love of reading.


The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children under 2 not have any screen time, even if the device is used for reading. Once your child is older, you can read them the occasional e-book. However, print books should always be your first choice, as your child can handle and explore them with all five senses.

Things to keep in mind

  • Reading exposes your child to new words and introduces them to the fundamentals of writing (e.g., we read from left to right, words are made up the letters of the alphabet).
  • Frequently reading books with your child, letting them pick their own books, and going to the library are all good ways to foster an interest in reading.
  • As your child starts producing longer sentences, books will help them further develop their language skills.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, M.Sc., Speech-Language Pathologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: October 2019



Sources and references

Note: Links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Bergeron-Gaudin, Marie-Ève. J’apprends à parler : le développement du langage de 0 à 5 ans. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 184 pp.
  • Desmarais, Chantal, et al. “Comprehension of inferences: comparing the abilities of four and five year old children in dialogic reading.” Revue des sciences de l’éducation, vol. 38, no. 3, 2012, pp. 555–578.
  • Ferland, Francine. Raconte-moi une histoire : pourquoi ? Laquelle ? Comment ? Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2008.
  • Gagné, Andréanne, and Ophélie Tremblay. “Lecture partagée : la relation avec l’enfant compte aussi.” Parlons apprentissage blog, Les Éditions Passe-temps, 15 May 2019.
  • Nanhou, Virginie, et al. “La motivation en lecture durant l’enfance et le rendement dans la langue d’enseignement à 15 ans,” Institut de la statistique du Québec, vol. 8, no. 3, 2016.
  • Wasik, Barbara A., Annemarie H. Hindman and Emily K. Snell. “Book reading and vocabulary development: A systematic review,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2016, pp. 39–57.