Creative Child

Reading to Your Baby and Toddler

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When and How to Read

Here's a great thing about reading aloud: It doesn't take special skills or equipment, just you, your baby, and some books. Read aloud for a few minutes at a time, but do it often. Don't worry about finishing entire books — focus on pages that you and your baby enjoy.

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Try to set aside time to read every day — perhaps before naptime and bedtime. In addition to the pleasure that cuddling your baby before bed gives both of you, you'll also be making life easier by establishing a routine. This will help to calm your baby and set expectations about when it's time to sleep.

It's also good to read at other points in the day. Choose times when your baby is dry, fed, and alert. Books also come in handy when you're stuck waiting, so have some in the diaper bag to fill time sitting at the doctor's office or standing in line at the grocery store.

Here are some additional reading tips:

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  • Cuddling while you read helps your baby feel safe, warm, and connected to you.
  • Read with expression, pitching your voice higher or lower where it's appropriate or using different voices for different characters.
  • Don't worry about following the text exactly. Stop once in a while and ask questions or make comments on the pictures or text. ("Where's the kitty? There he is! What a cute black kitty.") Your child might not be able to respond yet, but this lays the groundwork for doing so later on.
  • Sing nursery rhymes, make funny animal sounds, or bounce your baby on your knee — anything that shows that reading is fun.
  • Babies love — and learn from — repetition, so don't be afraid of reading the same books over and over. When you do so, repeat the same emphasis each time as you would with a familiar song.
  • As your baby gets older, encourage him or her to touch the book or hold sturdier vinyl, cloth, or board books. You don't want to encourage chewing on books, but by putting them in his or her mouth, your baby is learning about them, finding out how books feel and taste — and discovering that they're not edible!

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What to Read

Books for babies should have simple, repetitive text and clear pictures. During the first few months of life, your child just likes to hear your voice, so you can read almost anything, especially books with a sing-song or rhyming text. As your baby gets more interested in looking at things, choose books with simple pictures against solid backgrounds.

Once your baby begins to grab, you can read vinyl or cloth books that have faces, bright colors, and shapes. When your baby begins to respond to what's inside of books, add board books with pictures of babies or familiar objects like toys. When your child begins to do things like sit up in the bathtub or eat finger foods, find simple stories about daily routines like bedtime or bath time. When your child starts talking, choose books that invite babies to repeat simple words or phrases.

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Books with mirrors and different textures (crinkly, soft, scratchy) are also great for this age group, as are fold-out books that can be propped up, or books with flaps that open for a surprise. Board books make page turning easier for infants and vinyl or cloth books can go everywhere — even the tub. Babies of any age like photo albums with pictures of people they know and love. And every baby should have a collection of nursery rhymes!

One of the best ways you can ensure that your little one grows up to be a reader is to have books around your house. When your baby is old enough to crawl over to a basket of toys and pick one out, make sure some books are included in the mix.

In addition to the books you own, take advantage of those you can borrow from the library. Many libraries have storytime just for children under the age of 3, too. Don't forget to pick up a book for yourself while you're there. Reading for pleasure is another way you can be your baby's reading role model.

Reviewed by: Carol A. Quick, EdD
Date reviewed: May 2013

(c) The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. Reprinted with permission.

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