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How to Introduce Toddlers and Babies to Books

A mother shows a picture book to her toddler.

This resource provides research-based tips on how to share books with babies and toddlers to maximize the joy and learning of book-reading and to nurture a lifelong love of books.


The first—and best—tip for sharing books with young children is to have fun together! If children are engaged and enjoying themselves, they are learning. When children have positive interactions with books, they are developing good feelings about reading, which will motivate them to continue seeking out books and other literacy materials as they grow.

Here are some other ideas for nurturing early literacy skills in your baby or toddler:

A Few Minutes at a Time is OK. Don’t Worry if You Don’t Finish the Story.

Young children can only sit for a few minutes for a story, but as they grow, they will be able to sit longer. Let your child decide how much (or how little) time you spend reading. And you don’t need to read every page. You may find that your child has a favorite page or even a favorite picture. She may want to linger there for a while, and then switch books or activities. Babies may just want to mouth the book! That’s okay. When you let your child explore books in the ways that interest her, the reading experience will be more meaningful.

Talk or Sing About the Pictures

You do not have to read the words to tell a story. Try “reading” the pictures in a book for your child sometime. When your child is old enough, ask him to read the pictures to you!

Let Children Turn the Pages

Babies cannot yet turn pages on their own, but an 18-month-old will want to give it a try, and a 3-year-old can certainly do it alone. Remember, it’s OK to skip pages!

Show Children the Cover Page

Explain what the story is about. If you have an older toddler, ask them to guess what the story might be about.

Show Children the Words

Run your finger along the words as you read them, from left to right.

Make the Story Come Alive

Create voices for the story characters and use your body to tell the story.

Make It Personal

Talk about your own family, pets, or community when you are reading about others in a story.

Ask Questions About the Story, and Let Children Ask Questions Too!

Use the story to have a back-and-forth conversation with your child. Talk about familiar activities and objects you see in the illustrations or read about in the story.

Let Children Tell The Story

Children as young as 3 years old can memorize a story, and many children love to be creative through storytelling.

Create Books Together

Make photo books of family members. Cut pictures out of magazines or catalogs to make word books. Make a color book by having fun with crayons, markers, and paints. As your child gets older, have him or her dictate a story to you and then draw pictures to go with the words.

Make Books a Part of Your Daily Routine

The more that books are woven into children’s everyday lives, the more likely they will be to see reading as a pleasure and a gift.

  • At Meal Times
    Sing or read a story during a moment of quiet nursing or to gather the kids around the noisy breakfast table.
  • In the Car or on the Bus
    Keep a few books in the car or in your diaper bag to keep your little ones quiet and busy.
  • At Child Care Drop Off
    Calm a crying child at good-bye time with a favorite story or lullaby. Leave a photo book with pictures of loved family members at child care so your child can flip through it when she is missing you.
  • At the Doctor’s Office
    Read or tell a soothing story to your little one in the waiting room and sing or talk through the scary parts of the visit. Before the visit, read books about going to the doctor so your child knows what to expect.
  • At the Grocery Store
    Put a few board books in the shopping cart or tie a cloth book to the shopping cart so you’re not cleaning up books from the floor as you go!
  • At Nap Time
    Familiar routines always help babies calm down. Use books and stories to quietly ease your baby to sleep.
  • At Day’s End
    You are exhausted, the baby is fussy. Lie down on the floor surrounded by books. Play a book on tape for your baby. Sing a song together while you all try to relax a bit.
  • At Bath Time
    Plastic bath time books are great fun and may help a fussy baby enjoy the tub a little more.
  • At Bed Time
    Soothing books and stories can work magic with babies who fight sleep!

Browse our full suite of resources on early childhood development.

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