Collage of photos of diverse adults reading to young children.
Read 12.5 minutes a day to children to prepare them for school

Childhood is the perfect time to learn the joy of reading. Reading books to children not only capture their imagination, but introduces new ideas, values, and vocabulary. In a study conducted by Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, “a million word gap” was found between young children who had five books a day read to them by kindergarten and those who did not. What an incredible discrepancy.

How many books to read in a year to children?

Shelf of children's picture books
Shelf of children’s picture books

Think of the limited opportunity we have to mentor children into healthy reading habits. Reading five books a day before kindergarten to develop vocabulary, reading habits, and even empathy. The math on 5 books a day before kindergarten looks like this:

  • Cut 1st year in half so starting at 6 months of age ( the first 6 months are hectic)- 182.5 days * 5= 912.5 books
  • 2nd year= 1825 books
  • 3rd year= 1825 books
  • 4th year= 1825 books
  • 5th year= 1825 books
  • Total= 8212.5 books

Let’s be realistic here. Few people will be able to keep up this schedule, but what if you did? What if you could expose your child to 8213 books in the first 4 1/2 years of their lives? Sadly, in the study they discovered that one fourth of this nation’s children were never read to and another one fourth were only read to once or twice a week. So, half of America’s children are literary speaking – starving for books. (Can’t imagine the numbers in third world countries.)

The study came up with the million word gap by randomly sampling 30 children’s books from a most circulated list and “counted how many words were in each book.” Picture books on average have 228 words and board books roughly contain 140 words on average.

Compare these numbers with the average time spent on screens. “According to Common Sense Media, children from birth to age 8 average about two and a half hours of screen media daily. Each day:

  • Those younger than age 2 tally 49 minutes
  • 2- to 4-year-olds watch two and a half hours
  • 5- to 8-year-olds spend just over three hours on their screens”

How long does it take to read a 228 word book to a child?

Spiraling Clock Face
Spiraling Clock Face

Since we’re on a math kick here, let’s see how long that 228 word book will take us. We are all busy and finding time in our day to read to our child seems daunting. But thanks to this handy word to time calculator, we can have hope. Going with the slowest average reader (knowing children can interrupt) 90 wpm (words per minute), that picture book will take 2.5 minutes.

Five picture books would take around 12.5 minutes. Yikes, I just checked my phone for my daily screen time – I’m not willing to confess. We’ll just go with the national average for Instagram which is 29 minutes. Stunning!

How to help fill the “million word gap?”

What if you don’t have children to read to in your home any more? How can you help bridge this million word gap for our precious future generation?

  • Ask local schools, daycare centers, or libraries if you can volunteer to read to groups of children (be prepared to take background checks and vaccine checks).
  • Have a neighbor with young ones? Host a public reading for them (be sure to follow safety protocols like not being alone).
  • You could also purchase a copy of the book for the child(ren) (works great for grandchildren or nieces/nephews) and read it to them via Zoom or video on Facebook Messenger.
  • You could even record the reading and share it and a copy of the book with people.

How to afford Children’s books?

  • Obviously the cheapest way is your local library. Discover Books partners with local libraries to help with their discarded books, which provides them cash to get them more books (shameless plug).
  • Buy used copies. Children go through so many books quickly, so buying gently used copies makes sense. Discover Books offers bundle packs for a discounted price. And many of our children’s books start at $3.85 with free shipping on orders of $9 or more. (We offer discount codes weekly in our email and text newsletters- saving between 10% – 25% on orders with multiple books.)
  • Little Free Libraries. Use this map locator to find official boxes near you. Many stock children’s books making it easy to swap children’s books with the community.
  • Start a book swap with your friends. Since all their friends’ families are in the same boat, do a monthly or weekly swap. If you had 5 friends who each bought 5 books, that would cover 25 books. You could even do a weekly group reading time. Read 5 books in 2.5 minute spurts and let them play while you have much needed adult time.

What are some great books to read to young children?

Disclaimer alert: These book recommendations were chosen from my little children bookshelves. They are the ones well-worn and slightly tattered from years of love. We read them to our children and now to their children. Our kids went back to these books time and time again. (Randomly ordered list, not by importance.)

We are all so busy and there are so many distractions in our lives. We hope this article helps demonstrate how little time is required to get kids off to an early head start in reading. Early childhood reading helps cognitive development, vocabulary & language skills, concentration, and really prepares them for school.

Don’t let these precious childhood moments slip by. Do what you can when you can? Reach out for help or be the one to provide help. This is a community effort. For more children books recommendations click here or go to our website to find your favorite.

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