Last week, Carolyn from The Pleasantest Thing, Melissa Galloday, and I chatted on air via Google Hangout about the nuts and bolts of reading to babies. I’ve found that in my personal experience, advice on reading to babies is one of the top topics that my friends want to chat about. While some babies love to read and snuggle, I have babies that spend most of their “reading” time pulling books off the bookshelf and attempting to chew off the corners. So, here are my real-life tips on what has worked for reading to babies in my home.
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Follow your baby’s lead.
All of us agreed in the hangout that when reading to babies, you must follow a baby’s lead. If your baby seems uninterested, don’t force your baby to listen to a book. Look for those times of day, when your baby is more interested in cuddling and sitting still. For some babies this time will be before naps, other babies might be more cuddly when they first wake up.
My babies have always had favorite books that they asked for me to read over and over again. I have always tried to read the books that the kids enjoy as many times as they want. At the same time, you want to be sure that you are enjoying the reading time too (babies will pick up on negative attitudes). So, I’m not above hiding the occasional beloved (but annoying) book when I need a break!
Read age-appropriate books.
Just because a book is in board book format, does NOT mean that the book is written for babies. Board book formatting is publishing format that actually is more expensive and has a lower price point than traditional paper books. As a result, publishers mainly publish books in board book format that either are guaranteed to sell a large number of copies (such as books by popular authors) or books that are written by editors.
When you look for books for reading to babies, be sure to open the book and glance at the content. I’ve found that the youngest babies enjoy books that encourage interaction and have very simple, bright illustrations. Older babies usually enjoy slightly more complex books that focus on a single, repetitive theme such as a night time routine or animals.
Your local library is a great place to explore the different books available for reading to babies. Check out the board book collection and ask your librarian for help if you have trouble finding good books. Here are some great authors and publishers to start with (links go to Amazon where you can see a list of books by these authors):
Make books available.
Sometimes the best strategy for reading to babies is just making sure that your baby has books within reach during the day to explore at her own pace. I like having baskets of books rather than bookshelves, because baskets are a safer for your baby to explore alone and the books are easier to clean up. (Babies don’t just take one book out at a time.)
Let your baby touch.
Especially small babies tend to have trouble reading a book from cover to cover. Be flexible and just talk about the illustrations if your baby isn’t interested in actually “reading” the books.
Never read a book that your baby can’t touch. Unfortunately, touch screens on e-readers are not very baby-friendly.
Plan on your baby books not being passed on as heirlooms. I buy a lot of board books at yard sales for 25 cents. While I do teach my babies not to rip books, unfortunately the books do still get ripped, messy fingers touch the pages, and occasionally a book gets chewed on. If you have a special book that you would like to have a copy of for a baby memory box, buy a second copy.
Don’t make your baby sit still.
When reading to a baby, allow your baby to walk around the room and come back to see the book when they are interested. Be okay with reading to babies in five minutes spurts.
Read with enthusiasm.
Babies respond to exaggerated vocal inflection and word pronunciation. Contrary to common opinion, talking to your baby in an exaggerated voice (often called “baby talk”) actually encourages babies’ language development rather than hinders it. Exaggerated language emphasizes the sounds in words and helps baby recognize words. (This type of baby talk is different than copying a baby by incorrectly pronouncing words.)
If you have fun reading the book, chances are your baby will have fun listening to the book.
Encourage interaction when reading to babies.
I always ask my baby questions and encourage my baby to point and interact with the illustrations. If the book involves counting or making animal sounds, make the sounds together.
Touch and feel books or simple look and find books are great books for reading to babies that naturally encourage interaction. Some of our favorite touch and feel books are the Usborne series “That’s Not My . . .” and our favorite flap books are Karen Katz’ “Where Is Baby’s . . .”
Babies usually enjoy reading the same books over and over again. In fact, you may find that always reading the same book before bedtime has a calming effect. I find that my baby also memorizes her favorite books and will recite the book as I read it. Two of our favorite bedtime books are:
Books that have repetitive lines and themes are also great for reading to babies. My baby loves:
Visit story times.
Taking your baby to story time at your local library or bookstore can be a great way to introduce your baby to new books and also learn how to make reading a fun experience for your baby. Story times usually use a mixture of singing, reading, and active interaction to engage babies in reading. Watch your librarian as she reads the books and make a mental note of how she keeps the children engaged.
Focus on the big picture.
Remember that your baby is just a beginner book lover. Reading to your baby is the introduction not the end of the story of your child’s reading experience. Let your baby develop at his own pace, give your baby lots of opportunities to read and be read to, and let your baby see you reading. Chances are when your baby is ready, you will hardly be able to keep up with her love for books!
You can watch the Google hangout and see a list of our favorite books for reading to babies at The Pleasantest Thing.
What are your tips for reading to babies?
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