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Reading to Babies & Toddlers

Dear Debi,
I am a grandfather of four and I would like to teach my infant grandson to read. Is it too early to start?
&ndash Henry Ruiz
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Make reading a predictable part of your child's day
  • Start reading as soon as baby is born
  • Keep books handy
Expert Advice
Magaly Lavadenz
Magaly Lavadenz
Loyola Marymount University
Reading to babies, even before they understand the words, sets the stage for literacy. Babies will associate books and reading with pleasure. It is also calming and helps the baby bond with the caregiver. It's important to make this a fun, pleasurable time so that the baby associates reading with pleasure. The child will grow to understand that reading is not a chore, but a great pleasure. It also encourages language and concept development.

I recommend reading to the baby before she is born. A mother or father reading to the baby before birth helps to establish a connection with the sound of the parents' voices. This creates a bond between parent and child and allows the child to recognize parents' voices before birth.

The books you should have around the house really depend on the baby's age. Different stages call for different types of reading.

From birth to 6 months:
Babies should be held and cuddled while the caregiver reads to them. The child will want to touch the book, put the book in its mouth. At this stage, the best books to read from are cloth or vinyl books. These allow the baby to drool on the book or paw the book without causing damage to the book or the baby. I recommend types of books like "Pat the Bunny" at this stage.

From 6 months to one year:
At this stage, babies start to become interested in the book's story. Show the baby the pictures in the book and talk about them. At this stage babies begin to realize that books say something. Sturdy cardboard books are good at this time, because babies can grasp them and start to turn the pages. Also sturdy pop-up books are good, because they focus the baby's attention. It's also important for babies to learn that language has pattern and flow. For this reason I recommend books like "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?".

From 1 year to 1 1/2:
At this stage babies enjoy books that tell simple stories. Point to pictures and name objects with which the baby is familiar. Babies this age will want to hear the same story over and over again. This can be boring for the caregiver, but this helps build vocabulary and comprehension. I recommend that books are kept throughout the house, at a level where a child can reach them. Let the child explore the books she's interested in. Any books you don't want damaged, keep out of reach of the baby. This will also teach the child that there are "special objects" and "everyday" items. Make sure that you have books with pictures of children that look like them (multicultural). At this stage, children will also begin to understand the concepts of print - turning pages, tracking from left to right, and that those black marks on the page mean something.

From 1 1/2 years to 2:
While reading to the child, point at pictures and say or ask the names of things in the picture. This is when children start to recognize and verbalize objects. The reader should be entertaining for the child - use different voices for different characters. Role play with the child while reading the story. Talk about the pictures before turning the page. Say the name of an object and ask the baby or toddler to point out that object. Praise the child every time the child points at and names the item - you want to give the child positive reinforcement. Encourage the child to make up their own stories and play with words.

You should never force a baby to read. That's one of the reasons that you should start reading to a child from birth. This allows them to view reading as a pleasurable experience. Follow the baby's cues. If she looks away, stop. If she's more interested in mouthing a toy while you're reading, fine - she's still listening to you. If she wants to look at the same page over and over, that's fine too. If she just wants to turn the pages and not dwell on the picture, that's okay. Stay with it as long as she's interested. When she's lost interest, don't force her - do something else. It's important to keep reading time relaxed and fun.
Child Care Provider Comments
Bridgette Smith
Bridgette Smith
Mother of two, expecting her third child
I suggest not putting too much pressure on the child to learn to read. Have lots of books available and read whenever the child shows an interest. Children will pick up words that you don't even think that they are hearing.
Silvia Fischer
Silvia Fischer
Grandmother of 20-month-old
My grandson loves reading. He likes all kinds of books, especially anything to do with animals. I read with him every time I see him. He likes learning new words and, at his age, he is a sponge absorbing new vocabulary.
Consuelo Ducoing
Consuelo Ducoing
Child care provider for 14 years
Reading helps children learn words. It really expands their vocabulary when they are exposed to books. They're learning that letters and words in books mean something. Reading aloud helps them with speech and intonation. You can even expose them to new languages. I've made a little cut out of the bear from "Brown Bear, Brown Bear." I use it as a little puppet while I read from the book and the child in my care loves it.

Homemade Books (2) Featured Activity:
Homemade Books (2)
Reading to Babies & Toddlers Featured Video:
Reading to Babies & Toddlers
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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