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.