Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tips for Reading to Babies

I was at a little park near our house today with my daughter when she asked for a book that I had in the back of her stroller. I gave it to her, and she sat down and started reading it out loud to herself. Now, of course she can't really read, but I could tell that she was imitating my own tone and word patterns that I use when I read that book to her.

Another mother asked me how long I'd been reading to her, and she seemed incredulous when I told her that I had started reading to her while she was still pregnant. She hadn't even started reading to her son who was close to my daughter's age and said, "I figured since he couldn't understand what I was saying, it was pointless to read to him." She then asked for some tips to start introducing books.

This isn't the first time I've heard parents say similar things about reading to their children.
I'm not going to into the benefits of reading to babies and toddlers since I've done that before and you can google the phrase and find tons of information, but I am going to share some of the tips I shared with the mother at the park today.

This is what I've done to help my daughter learn to love books and look forward to reading time.

  • Include books as part of your child's regular routine.
    We nearly always read after bath time and before bed, and my daughter normally goes to the bookshelf and picks out her own books after bath time because she's so used to this routine.

  • Choose sturdy board books for not-so-gentle hands.
    I learned this the hard way more than once when my daughter tore pages out of one book and nearly ripped the white rabbit's head off in our Alice in Wonderland pop up. Not only can most board books withstand a little "abuse," but the thick cardboard pages help kids turn pages more easily. Most of them are also fairly short and perfect for short attention spans.

  • Don't stress about not finishing the book.
    When my daughter started getting mobile, I would seriously get stressed out when she only wanted to sit still for a few minutes. "Wait, I'm not finished," I'd say. I'd also get a little stressed when she wanted to turn the page before I was finished reading the text. Well, I soon learned that it just wasn't possible for her to sit still that long and it didn't mean that she was bored. She was just a curious baby who wanted to explore other things. Plus, when they're little, they can't understand the story. You don't even have to read the entire thing or even read the real words. You can talk about the pictures or make up your own story. The point is not to force your child to sit down and read. If it's an unpleasant experience, it's going to be difficult to get them to enjoy reading in the future.
  • Keep books around the house.
    I have little canvas bins full of books in the rooms where we spend the most time: kitchen, living room, my daughter's room, and our bedroom. When I'm cooking dinner or when we're watching TV, my daughter will often pull out the bins and and flip through the books. I also make sure I keep some in the car and in her stroller.
  • Use funny voices for different characters.
    Babies love to hear you talk, and they love funny sounds. Using funny voices makes the reading experience entertaining and enjoyable.
  • Choose colorful and rhythmic books.
    Young children are especially attracted to bright colors, and they also love to hear repetitive and rhythmic text. Textured "Touch and Feel" books are also good choices. One of our favorite books to read is Dee Lillegard's Who Will Sing a Lullaby. (my review) My daughter also enjoys the soothing tone of Jim Averbeck's In a Blue Room. (my review)
  • Choose books with pictures of things that interest your child.
    My daughter loves cats and trains, so I try to find books that have lots of pictures of cats and trains. When they get old enough to recognize and develop a liking for particular objects, it's nice to have books that also have these objects in them. They'll seem to naturally choose those and be interested in flipping through the pages.
  • Let your child choose books.
    Even when they're really young, give them the freedom to choose the books they want you to read to them.

  • Make use of your library.
    I found myself spending a small fortune on books before I discovered the children's section of my library. They have a huge variety of board books and picture books for young children. Reading doesn't have to be an expensive habit.

  • Be flexible.
    Sometimes your child is not going to feel like reading or listening to you read, and that's okay. Again remember your goal is to help them develop an appreciation for books and learn to love reading. They may be having a bad day or just want to chill out with their toys, and that's fine. Just keep offering books as part of their routine. One day or even a week without reading won't turn them into "book-haters."

  • Have fun.
    This is the most important tip I think I can offer. If it seems like work or a chore and if you're not enjoying it, your child will pick up on it. Use reading as a time to bond with and have fun with your child. I now find it to be the most relaxing part of my day.

What about you? Do you have any tips to offer?


  1. While your child is still an infant, keep a stack of board books close to the changing table. Everytime you change theier daiper, hand the baby a board book. They may only chew on it at first but you can talk about the cover while you change their diaper. You get your infant interested in books AND you keep their hands out of the dirty diaper area.

    But, my best advice to someone who has not been reading to their child, no matter what age, is START TODAY! It is never too early and it is never too late.

  2. Mary,
    This is wonderful advice about the changing table. I wish I would have thought of that months ago.

    And I completely agree that it's never too late to start reading to your child!

  3. Thank you for this post! I in fact had just written a post on my page asking for advice getting my one year old to actually listen to books instead of closing them and crawling away.

  4. Rebecca,
    I'm way behind on my blog reading and hadn't seen your post yet. My daughter is now almost 19 months old, and it wasn't until a few months ago that she'd sit still and listen to a book or flip through one on her own. I think it just takes time. When they start moving around and exploring things, the last thing they want to do is sit.

    I think you're doing an excellent job at introducing your son to books. He'll be "reading" on his own before you know it!

  5. Great post Jill! I've found that when I put a board book in my 17 months old crib not only will he look at before he falls asleep but when he wakes up, he'll open it right away. Most of the time, I can hear him wake up but he doesn't call for me. He can be found looking at his book instead.

    We always keep books in the car. A book to look at always calms down a crying baby when there isn't much else I can do for him.

  6. Natasha,
    I'm totally going to try the book-in-the-crib idea. My daughter has recently been refusing to go into her crib...not sure what's going on there.

  7. I started collecting picture books and reading to my kids when I was still pregnant and my husband thought I was crazy. But all my children have turned out to be readers and those picture books are all packed away now for when they have kids of their own.
    And I'm getting ready for grandkids by buying up new picture books as I find them. The latest ones I've added to the collection are by Lance Waite, his A Day with My Dad books. They're a wonderful celebration of father-daughter relationships, and I can't wait to have granddaughters to share them with.

  8. There are some great ideas here. The only one I would like to add, is to make sure your child can see the pictures and text the right way up. Listening to you read while being able to see the text is important for pre-reading. Even at an early age, children will begin to recognize some of the squiggles and make connections.