Experts agree that even when a baby is in the womb, he or she benefits from hearing you read aloud. So, imagine the value of snuggling up with your baby or toddler and reading a little book together. When you read aloud to your baby, you are telling them that they are cherished. You are welcoming them into a story that will shape their imagination and character. Snuggle up and enjoy this sweet time together.
But it’s not as dreamy as it sounds, is it? If reading aloud to your baby or toddler feels impossible or discouraging, take heart. You are in good company. All parents have to work with limited attention spans, unpredictable needs, and ferocious appetites. I’m here to help you overcome some of the trickiest obstacles, make a simple plan, and enjoy reading with your little one.
Discover Your Baby’s Read-Aloud Style
What does your baby love about books?
We all read for a variety of reasons. I read for life lessons. One of my daughters reads for story, while my other daughter connects with the characters. My son uses books as a reference point for things that come up in real life.
Why do you read? Why does your baby read?
Have fun observing your child’s unique approach to books. Once you notice a trend, you can emphasize your child’s interest when you read aloud. You’ll capture your child’s attention, have more fun, and see your little one fall in love with books.
What does your child like about books?
- Watching the words
- Hearing the words
- Looking at pictures
- Interacting with the pictures
- Connecting with the characters
- Spending time with you
- Role-playing afterward
- Asking questions
- Personal contemplation
- Something else?
Plan When and Where You Will Read Aloud Together
When is your child most likely to connect with a read-aloud? Every child has a natural body clock of energy highs and lows, times of contemplation and times of output. My baby is calm immediately after nursing, so I often read a book while we’re nice and cozy in the rocking chair. Some days, the perfect time and place never come our way, so we just do our best. When you have a hunch that it is a good time to read aloud to your baby, grab a book and give it a try!
Where does your baby seem to settle down and seem most attentive? In the high chair or bouncy seat? Snuggling on the couch? Make the most of that time and place.
Keep a small basket of books in every location where you’ll be likely to find an opportunity to read to your baby: near the kitchen table, in the bathroom, next to the rocking chair, etc. Then, you’ll easily find a book, and it’ll be easy to tidy up afterward.
Age-specific strategies for reading aloud to babies and toddlers
- Read a poem or a Psalm when you feed your baby. Place the open book on an end-table so you don’t have to turn pages.
- Lay down next to baby during tummy time and page through a simple board book together.
- Prop baby up in your lap and read a simple book with well-defined pictures that you can point to and identify. Even if your baby isn’t looking at the pages, she is absorbing the language and the experience. You are establishing her expectations that you two read aloud together.
- Read A Children’s Treasury of Nursery Rhymes or Wee Sing Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies while your baby is eating. The short poems allow for frequent interruptions, and yet you are introducing baby to rich language, ideas, illustrations, and the concept of reading from a book. You won’t feel as frustrated by the interruptions, and your baby’s attention span will grow over time.
- Read to an active baby when they are in a jumpy seat.
- Do you have an active child? Read one picture book, then act it out.
- Contemplative child? Read a book, then let her play alone to think it through.
- Talkative child? Read a book, then talk about it all day long! Write down some of his thoughts and read them aloud as a story.
- Some children like to hold a related toy while listening to the book. (i.e. My daughter loves to hold her baby doll while reading Eloise Wilkin Stories.)
- Other children like to have their backs rubbed while they listen.
Literacy starts at birth—and even prior to birth—so it’s never too soon to enjoy books with your baby. If you have a toddler or preschooler, and you haven’t had a reading habit yet, it’s not too late to start! Jump right in and discover the delights of sharing books with babies.
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