Whether you are reading a story to your toddler or helping your grade-schooler choose a book she can read herself, it's never too early to set your little learner on the road to literacy. Books help your child develop reading skills, broaden vocabulary, learn how to sequence events and gain critical thinking skills. Selecting the best story for your child depends on a number of factors including age, developmental level and interests.
In the first year of life, children have different literacy needs than older kids. Infants are in the beginning stages of early literacy development, and they need books that introduce the basics, such as simple words and sounds. Instead of choosing a story that features a lengthy tale or an intricate plot with a vast cast of characters, simplicity is key. According to the national child-development organization Zero to Three, you should look for a story that comes with large or colorful pictures; pictures or photos of other babies; and thick, solid pages, such as those found in board books.
Toddlers' stories should also include a simple structure and brightly colored pictures. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents choose stories for toddlers that use repetitive or rhyming phrases, ask questions or have a predictable narrative sequence. The experts at Zero to Three also recommend that parents and educators choose simple stories with only a couple words on each page.
Although picture books are an ever-present staple of the preschooler's library, kids between the ages of 3 and 5 are ready for a more complex narrative structure. According to the International Reading Association, stories for preschoolers should play to the child's growing interest in how other people are similar or different. Additionally, stories for kids in this age group should contain repetitive phrases and sounds. Preschoolers may also enjoy stories about children their own age engaging in everyday situations such as going to school or playing with friends.
As your child moves into the grade-school years, he will begin to need stories that have a more complex structure. While you can still select picture books for your young grade-schooler, older elementary-school students -- from roughly third grade and up -- often need more sophisticated stories such as word-only chapter books. Keep in mind that not all chapter books are appropriate for children. Look for titles that are specifically written for young readers, and avoid any adult content such as overly romantic scenes or foul language.