You might be wondering what babies could possibly get out of reading at such a young age, and what you should even be doing while you’re reading to them. Should you use alphabet and number books, or a story? Should you use ‘baby talk’? How long should you even be reading for? The most common one is always: When should I start?
Many of these questions, plus the fact that babies tend to destroy anything made of paper, stop some parents from ever reading with their baby and trying to introduce books when their child is older. Well my friends, I want to convince you that it is NEVER too early to start reading with your baby and provide five tips to help make storytime a success!
The Benefits of Reading
Reading together is such a wonderful time for parents and babies to bond, and hearing your voice while snuggling close can help to soothe and comfort your little one. It also helps them start understanding the words we are using at a younger age! When we read to babies, we tend to slow down, use emotion and emphasis, and point to pictures of the words we are saying. If you read the same book over and over, your baby will learn that the sounds you make always refer to the same picture, and begin to truly understand that word. Pointing and pictures are one of the most helpful ways we teach children new words, and they are usually a natural part of reading!
Watching you point also shows your baby how to gesture, which is a VERY important step in the development of communication! Research shows that babies who are pointing at items start using those words earlier than their peers. Finally, I’ve always felt the most important benefit of reading together is it fosters a habit and enjoyment of reading as a family. Starting to build a love of reading young helps children to see it as a fun activity, rather than a chore for the both of you!
5 Tips for Successful Story Time
1 - Have realistic expectations
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is unlikely that reading your baby novels or textbooks is going to make them a prodigy. Similarly, it actually doesn’t really matter how early you start teaching ABC’s and 123’s, children are still probably not going to learn those things until they are developmentally ready and interested.
For babies, it is much more important that you choose sturdy books that can be chewed or thrown without being destroyed. It is also helpful for the pictures to be bright, simple, and have some interactive parts (e.g., lift-the-flap or touch-and-feel books). Try not to worry about teaching your child letters or numbers until it comes up naturally.
Your expectations for success in reading with your baby should only be that they are interacting with both you and the book, for any length of time! I would also say it is a massive success if your baby likes books enough to pick them up all on their own, even if it is only flipping pages and patting pictures.
2 - Be responsive
You probably have already heard that if you want your child to start talking, YOU need to be talking! While true, there is even more to it than that. The Hanen Centre teaches that while all communication is good, the best communication is responsive.
So what does that entail exactly? Responsive communication means that the things you are saying are a response directly to the things your child is doing or seeing. Babies do not have the ability to control much of their attention yet, so in order for us to teach them new words successfully we cannot be talking about anything outside of their immediate interests and awareness.
This typically means abandoning our usual ideas about how to read a book! I still recommend you hold it properly and flip through the pages, but instead of reading, observe your child and use words related to what they are seeing or doing. You might give them the word for the animal or character they are looking at (“Look, a puppy! Woof!”), describe what they are doing (“You’re patting the puppy. Pat pat pat!”), or describe what they are feeling (“Soft puppy. Soft”).
By responding to your child, you are ensuring that the words you are teaching are words your child is interested in learning and related to the current thoughts they are developing in their little minds! It also reinforces the enjoyment of interactions and conversations, because we let them choose what they think is fun in the moment!
3 - Read face to face
I’m going to guess you read to children the normal way, where you both are looking at the book and the child is either beside you or on your lap. Until I became an SLP I used to do this too, but after my first course I completely switched it up! Why? Because face-to-face interactions help you and your baby connect and learn so much more!
Seeing your little one’s face makes it easier for you to observe their interests and be a responsive communicator! It also allows your baby to see your face, so they can practice a skill called joint attention, where they alternate looking at an object and back to you to share their focus. Another huge benefit it that your baby can watch how your mouth is moving as you read! Speech is a very complex motor skill, and children need to see what you’re doing if they are going to be able to copy you.
Some of the ways I like to set myself up to read face-to-face include sitting in a large chair or on the couch, and using my legs or a couple massive pillows for the baby to lean against. You can also read face-to-face on the floor lying on your tummies, or have your baby on their back while you read to them from above.
4 - Point + Talk
I mentioned above the benefits of pointing, but I want to highlight again how important it is for successful story time with babies! If you are not pointing to the pictures, your baby is unlikely to understand many of the words you are using and they’ll be less interested. Have you ever sat in a classroom and had no idea what the teacher was talking about? Pretty good chance in those moments you wanted to just get up and walk away too! To help babies understand, use mostly single words and point as you flip through the story.
Pointing also helps your baby start to learn HOW to use books appropriately. When you hold a book and show your baby that on each page you stop to talk and look at a picture, you are helping them to see that books are more than just objects with moving parts. Babies need to see you do something so many times before they learn to do it too, so starting early and continuing to try even when it doesn’t seem successful is still building those skills!
5 - Have fun!
This seems intuitive, but it’s important to remember! Many adults default into our monotone “reading voices”, even when we are reading to our young children, and this definitely will not hold their interest. Research shows that babies prefer speech that is super enthusiastic and over-emphasized, like the classic “baby talk” or “Mom voice” you see people naturally using all the time to talk to infants… and sometimes dogs. Since you are (hopefully) face-to-face, you can also use fun over-the-top facial expressions to help get your baby excited about what you are reading!
Another important point is to let your child lead when reading happens. Often we try to pull children away from another task when WE want to read, and they may have been in the zone working on their motor or cognitive skills during play! A better method is to leave books lying around and join in once your baby has picked one up, or start a story when your child is clearly in a cuddly mood. If this never happens with your child, consider making a family photo album. Children LOVE to see pictures of themselves, and as long as you are following the suggestions above, your child is sure to get the benefits of reading no matter what pictures you are flipping through.
I hope some of these suggestions help make reading more fun for your family! If you have any thoughts or questions please head over to @erlee.beginnings on Instagram and send me a DM! I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have anything you would like to see posted in the future!
Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate you and hope to see you soon!