Who Should Pick the Books You Read: Parent, or Child?

If you’ve established a nightly (or daily) routine around reading books with your child, that’s a great start. Modeling the importance of reading, and the process of it, is essential in the development of early literacy skills.

But now, a bigger question looms: who picks the books?

You can make an argument, on the surface, for both sides:

Perhaps the parent should pick the book because they’re the adult, they know more about reading, they know more about difficulty level, and, frankly, they’ve had the long day working/care-giving and they shouldn’t have to read the same things over and over. (Right?)

But then again:

Perhaps the child should pick the book because it will foster the idea of reading as something fun for them – and because they can explore different topics and ideas at their own pace that way.

Is there necessarily a right answer?

As with most child-rearing questions, there’s not necessarily a definitive answer. In some cases, it’s OK for the parent to pick the book. This can sometimes happen organically — you might be reading a book, and your child sees it and wants you to read it to him or her. This is a good opportunity to model the idea of reading, even if the words/story might be above their current level.

More often than not, though, it’s best to let the child to pick the book. Scholastic recommends keeping a few things in mind when you “P.I.C.K.” books to read (Purpose, Interest, Comprehension, and Know The Words). That first word of the acronym is important: purpose. Letting children select books independently showcases that we seek books for different reasons, and that different books have different purposes. This aids them in thinking about reading as a fun and functional activity.

Letting children choose the book also lets them focus on topics of interest, which will be important when they get to a more research-driven age (middle school and beyond). A mother recently told us that at around 27 months, her son started showing a strong interest in books about ships. They read every book about ships they could find. He’s in fourth grade now, and eagerly working on a research project for his class on the Titanic.

Also remember that “print motivation” – essentially, a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books and reading – is considered one of the six primary early literacy skills required for children to become readers.  Quite simply, if the parent consistently chooses the book – remember, choosing it periodically is fine – it can feel like reading is being forced on the child, and that can cause a negative connection between reading and a self-selected, fun activity.

While a child should be encouraged to explore and select books, a parent can help guide this process by having a wide selection of age-appropriate books at a child’s eye level. If possible, try to display the books so that your child can see the front cover, rather than the spine of the book. Remember that children learn through repetition, and asking to read the same book over and over is healthy, and normal. Your child will get the most out of storytime if it’s enjoyable for both the child and the parent.  So if after you’ve read the same book hundreds of times, you need a break from it, put it away for a few weeks. Your child will be even more excited to see it magically reappear when you’re ready to reintroduce it!

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