Language & Literacy Specialist
Reading to babies, even before they understand the words sets the stage for literacy. Reading is calming and helps the baby bond with the parent or caregiver. It's important to make this a fun, pleasurable time so that the baby associates reading with pleasure. The child will grow to understand that reading is not a chore, but a great pleasure. It also encourages language and concept development.
I recommend reading to the baby even before he or she is born. A mother or father can read to the baby before birth and this helps establish a connection with the sound of the parents' voices.
Different stages call for different types of reading experiences:
From birth to 6 months:
Babies should be held and cuddled while the caregiver reads to them. The child will want to touch the book, put the book in its mouth. At this stage cloth or vinyl books are best to read from. These allow the baby to drool on the book or paw the book without causing damage to the book or the baby. The books should be visually interesting and tactile - something to hold the baby's attention. Pictures are also important. Focusing on pictures helps develop eye muscles. At this stage, babies will begin to absorb the pattern and flow of language. At this stage, I recommend types of books like "Pat the Bunny".
From 6 months to 1 year:
At this stage, babies start to become interested in the book's story. Show the baby the pictures in the book and talk about them. At this stage babies begin to realize that books say something. Allow the baby to turn pages, choose pictures to look at. Sturdy cardboard books are good at this time, because babies can grasp them and start to turn the pages. Also sturdy pop-up books are good, because they focus the baby's attention. It's also important for babies to learn that language has pattern and flow. For this reason I recommend books like "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"
From 1 year to 1 1/2 years:
At this stage babies enjoy books that tell simple stories. Point to pictures and name objects with which the baby is familiar. Babies this age will want to hear the same story over and over again. This can be boring for the caregiver, but this helps build vocabulary and comprehension. I recommend that books are kept throughout the house, at a level where a child can reach them. Let the child explore the books she's interested in. Any books you don't want damaged, keep out of reach of the baby. This will also teach the child that there are "special objects" and "everyday" items. Make sure that you have books with pictures of children that look like them (multicultural). At this stage, children will also begin to understand the concepts of print - turning pages, tracking from left to right, and that those black marks on the page mean something.
From 1 1/2 years to 2 years:
While reading to the child, point at pictures and say or ask the names of things in the picture. This is when children start to recognize and verbalize objects. The reader should be entertaining for the child - use different voices for different characters. Role play with the child while reading the story. Talk about the pictures before turning the page. Say the name of an object and ask the baby or toddler to point out that object. Praise the child every time the child points at and names the item - you want to give the child positive reinforcement. Encourage the child to make up their own stories and play with words.
You should never force a baby to read. That's one of the reasons that you want to start reading to a child from birth. This allows them to view reading as a pleasurable experience. Follow the baby's cues. If she looks away, stop. If she's more interested in mouthing a toy while you're reading, fine - she's still listening to you. If she wants to look at the same page over and over, that's fine too. If she just wants to turn the pages and not dwell on the picture, that's okay. Stay with it as long as she's interested and when she's lost interest, don't force her - do something else. It's important to keep reading time relaxed and fun.
If you are raising your child to be bilingual, I recommend that one parent speak and read to the baby in one language, while the other parent speaks and reads to the baby in another. Read the language which the family speaks in the home. If the language is other than English, the baby will have lots of opportunities to absorb English in the environment all around him. Television, radio, other voices will all have an influence on the baby's eventual mastering of the English language.