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Reading to Infants

Dear Debi,
My sister has a two-year-old, but she doesnít think she should read to her daughter until she can really understand what the books are about. I encourage my sister to read to her daughter, but she wonít listen to me! What can I do to convince her?
Kim, Pasadena, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Start reading to infants at or even before birth
  • Babies learn language through intonations & inflections
  • Toddlers learn vocabulary & language skills
  • Take cues from kids
Expert Advice
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Language & literacy specialist
Reading to babies and toddlers is important for many reasons. They are developing language skills when they are read to. In fact, all babies are born with the ability to understand and discern the languages of their environment. So if you read to them, they will learn inflection and intonation of the language that will be useful for them later on.

If you are bilingual and speak both English and Spanish, then you can speak both those languages to the baby and that baby will be able to learn both languages simultaneously. Also, the more you read to them, the more they will develop their vocabulary.

I tell parents to start reading to children before they are born. Studies show that babies can pick up music and sound before birth. But babies should be read to as soon as possible, even at birth so that they get used to hearing the language and also so that they begin to bond with the child care provider. Itís also a great way for kids to develop their love of reading and books early on.

Itís important to get books that arenít too long for kids, especially young infants. Watch for their cues as to whether they want to be read to or not. For older kids, you can start increasing the time you read to them as they increase their interest in reading. Also, you will want to choose books that kids can hold and touch. There are many books that are interactive, which appeal to childrenís sensory development. There are books with pop-ups and soft or squishy books that are colorful which kids can touch and see. These books are great for kids because they teach kids more than just words. They can learn about textures and colors and all sorts of things besides the story in the book.

Remember that babies will most likely put the books into their mouths like everything else, so make sure you get books that will withstand this type of usage.

With babies, reading is a great way for them to bond with you. It gives them individualized attention during the story time, even if you are doing it with several children. The act of reading is an intimate time for the kids; they feel safe and loved during this very special time. A 9-month-old they are focus on your voice and are learning through your vocal intonations and inflections. They are hearing how you use the language and what sounds to use to speak that language.

For a 2-year-old, reading is a game because they begin to identify objects in the books that they are familiar with and begin to recognize the language of the books and text. They are expanding their vocabulary and language skills. They become more participatory.

You should read to children at least once a day. But if you can make time to read even just five minutes, three times a day, children will benefit from this. A good time to read to them is when they come into care, starting off the day reading a favorite book, then before nap time to get them relaxed, and ending the day with another favorite book would be great.
Child Care provider Comments
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
I take care of 3 grandbabies: a-19 months-old, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. I also care for two nieces who are 2 and 4 years old. I read to all of them at once, although they are at different developmental stages. All of them want to sit in close proximity to me and so I make sure the book is big enough for all of them to see and participate. I begin reading the book and I act it out with different voices. The younger ones might get up and walk away but theyíll wander back and stay close by. The 6-year-old likes to point out words she visually recognizes or corrects me if I make a mistake while the 4-year-olds likes to pick out the pictures. The 19-month-old will actually go pick out his favorite book and put it in my face and hollers for me to read that one to him. Thatís how much he has been exposed to reading and loves it. In fact, all the kids love it and I truly think itís because they were exposed to it at a very early age.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
I am currently taking care of five kids, ranging in age from newborn to two years old. I read to them as much as I can. Before we have story time, I have them sing, move, dance and get out all the wiggles. By the time weíre done with that, theyíre ready to settle down. Iíll then pick a book to read. I like to use books that the kids can touch and that they can interact with because I think the young kids really learn through their senses. As we go through the story, Iíll either talk about everything weíre reading about and ask them specific questions, or have them make up their own story about what they think is going to happen next.
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
I try to choose age-appropriate books with simple themes that they can understand and follow along with. I love books myself, so I try to incorporate books as often as I can and as early in their lives as possible. I donít expect the kids to sit through an entire story. Babies and toddlers donít have the same attention span as older kids. I choose books that allow me to become different characters and become animated because thatís what holds kidsí attention. If I can get them involved, I do because it holds their attention longer -- the more interactive, the better.

Innovations in Storytelling Featured Activity:
Innovations in Storytelling
Infant Reading Featured Video:
Infant Reading
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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