The Real Story about Reading to Babies
It’s never too early to start coaxing your baby to be a book lover. Read on for tips from the pros on reading with babies big and small in ways that keep Mommy and baby engaged and entertained.
Define "Reading" Broadly
“Sometimes early reading looks a lot like chewing,” says Renea Arnold, who frequently reads to children of all ages in her role as Early Childhood Services Supervisor at the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. “Babies learn by exploring with their mouths. You can encourage this by introducing soft cloth, vinyl or board books to your little one.”
“Point to objects in the book and name them, or make noises for the animals depicted in a story,” Arnold suggests. “This will make story time more engaging for your baby, who already loves to hear your voice and watch your face. You don’t even need to read the words as they appear in the book. You can just talk about the pictures.”
Involve Your Baby
“Choosing what he would like to look at and learning to turn the pages is part of your child’s early literacy development,” says Arnold. “Give him access to books by storing them within reach, among his toys or on a low shelf; respond to his interest by imitating his responses as you’re reading; and ask him questions about the book, such as ‘Where is the duck?’ Wait before responding, and then answer for him, pointing, ‘Oh, look, there’s the duck!’”
Relax, and Have Fun!
“It’s okay if your baby crawls or moves away,” Arnold says. “She’ll still hear, and benefit from, your voice as you read.”
Soothe and Sing
“Babies love stories that soothe and are melodic in nature,” says Kevin Cordi, Ph.D., a professional storyteller and storytelling coach. “Stories should almost sound like music when being read, or told, to babies. Think in terms of helping them feel like they’re wrapped in a warm blanket during story time.”
“Babies and toddlers love sounds,” Cordi, who’s also an Assistant Professor of Storytelling at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, says. “Many children’s books feature words that are repeated over and over again; Try saying these words in new ways each time.” (Added benefit: this can also keep you from becoming bored with the story’s simplicity and repetition).
Embrace, and Incorporate, Interruptions
“Older babies and toddlers will interrupt you as a sign of interest in the story,” Cordi says. “They’ll want to know, ‘What color is the Polar Bear? Can he come to my house to play? Does he like my stuffed animal?’ Let the questions be part of the story, and use the response inside the story if you can.”
Connect with Your Child
“In story sharing, it’s the connection between the reader and listener that matters,” Cordi says. “Allow toddlers to foster their imaginations by being involved in a co-creative process while reading. If you end up making up a new story together and leaving the written one behind, that’s great!”
“Young children need to be told stories that honor their age,” says Cordi. Choosing books that are too advanced may limit children’s involvement, “but a simple story invites toddlers to join in with you.”
Find Your Best Time
“Have your reading sessions at a time of day that works well for both of you,” suggests Tessa Strickland, Co-founder and Editor in Chief of Barefoot Books, a children’s book publishing company with a focus on art and story. “The best time for reading is when you’re both not overly tired, but not too restless either.”
Forget Your Stage Fright
“Set aside anxieties about how well you do or don’t read; what matters is the shared experience,” Strickland says. “This is not about performance; it’s about bonding with your child. Enjoy reading together!”