Being read to from an essential kid’s book before bed is one of those childhood rituals that helps stretch imaginations, teaches kids to read more and bonds the family. What you may not know is that this bedtime bonding activity is not only important in determining future reading comprehension, but your toddler may also understand what you’re reading at an even earlier age than anyone has ever realized.

Mother and son reading

A recent study done by Washington University in St. Louis shows that children under the age of three can discern between a written word and a simple line drawing. These findings have the potential to be a game-changing breakthrough in understanding early childhood reading comprehension. The study, soon to be published in Child Development, is based on two separate experiments done on 114 children ages three to five who had not had any formal reading or writing instruction.

After being taught that there was only one pronunciation for the word dog, researchers substituted the word with “puppy” and the children immediately registered the mistake. Study co-author Rebecca Treiman, PhD, the Burke & Elizabeth High Baker Professor of Child Developmental Psychology in Arts and Sciences at Washington University, says that the “results show that children have some knowledge about the fundamental properties of writing from a surprisingly early age.” Awareness of this new reading comprehension benchmark could radically improve how we recognize and treat early childhood reading developmental delays and help provide those children with extra help before the problem becomes a more serious issue.

So while your youngest kiddos maybe not be in kindergarten yet, you should still break out the Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak and read, read, read!

What was your favorite bedtime story as a kid? Tweet us at BritandCo to let us know!