ZERO TO THREE’s National Parent Survey shows that nearly half of parents (45 percent) think that reading to children starts to benefit long-term language development at 2 years or older—about a year and a half later than it actually does. Research shows that the benefits of shared reading actually begin at about 6 months. Here are five ways to share books with babies starting from birth.
1. Just like coffee, start early and make it routine.
Make books part of your family’s everyday routines, starting in your baby’s earliest weeks. Naptime, bedtime, meal-time, bath-time and riding on the bus to child care are great opportunities to share stories. Making books a part of daily life builds a love of books and can make daily routines a time for bonding and learning.
2. Don’t start War and Peace. A few minutes at a time is fine.
Sharing books is supposed to be fun, not forced. Read your baby’s cues. Young babies may only pay attention to the book for a few minutes, while toddlers might sit for several short books. Encourage your child to explore books in ways that he finds fun. Babies may want to mouth the book, slap the pages with their hands, or open and close them. These are important ways babies learn about how books work. For active toddlers who find it hard to sit still, encourage them to act out the story. They might jump like the frogs or bounce a ball like the characters in the book. When you let your child explore books in the ways that interest her, you nurture a love of reading and language that can last a lifetime.
3. Get creative and use your own words.
Rather than reading the words, describe the pictures instead. Point out what you see happening and tell the story in your own words. Make connections to your own family, pets, or home as you are telling the story. Use different voices for each character to add some drama. This will even more actively engage your baby’s interest and make it fun for the whole family.
4. Choose books like luggage—go for sturdy and dependable.
Babies need sturdy board books that will stand up to banging and mouthing. Also look for vinyl “bath” books or fabric books that are baby-friendly (indestructible) as well. Choose stories with simple, rhythmic language and bright, high-contrast illustrations. Older toddlers enjoy books with easy-to-follow storylines that focus on familiar experiences, like bedtime, playing with peers or a doctor’s visit. Funny stories are a big plus at this age, since toddlers are developing a sense of humor.
5. Introduce your baby to the original social media—books with pictures of themselves!
Make your own homemade books using photos of your baby and other family members. Cut out magazine pictures to make a book of common words like “dog,” “spoon” and “teddy bear.” Snap photos of your child going through a daily routine like getting ready for a bath and turn it into a simple story. Babies and toddlers enjoy hearing the story of their lives and love looking at familiar faces (like yours!) most of all.