Reading to Young Children (Pre-birth to age three)
After learning I would become a mother, one of the first things I thought about was books! As an avid reader, I was eager to pass on my love of reading to my children. It seemed almost second nature to me to pick up a book and read to my babies even before their first breath of air.
Leading experts and educators support the notion that children should be read to early and often, so it’s nice to know there is evidence that something enjoyable is good for my children.
In the womb, babies develop their sense of hearing surprisingly early. Babies in the womb can hear anywhere from 16 weeks to 23 weeks gestation (around four or five months)!
This is a great time to intentionally read aloud to your baby. And guess what? You get to pick whatever material you like! Your audience is totally captive. Read your Bible aloud or even a magazine article. You can read fun picture books or chapter books. I enjoy reading chapter books to my unborn babies. At this early stage, they like the sound of your voice, and the natural rhythm of a story as you read can be very soothing. (Most prenatal experts will tell you they can’t hear super clearly anyway). Pick a time when your baby is active, that way you know they’re awake!
Zero to Six Months
During this period, you may be too tired to think about extra things like reading to your baby, but it can be a good experience for them and you. I never really think to do it until I can prop them up on my lap once they get good control over their wobbling head!
Pay attention to baby’s behavioral states and pick a time to read when they seem most alert. Dr William Sears, well-known pediatrician and author of over 30 childcare books calls this optimal time, “quiet alertness”. Baby’s “eyes are bright, open, attentive; limbs are relatively quiet. Baby appears to be contemplating the environment.” His tips for holding baby’s visual attention include:
“Sit or hold baby upright.
Wait for baby to be in the quiet alert state.
Keep object or face around ten inches from baby’s face.
Use animated facial gestures (wide open mouth and eyes) while speaking in a slow, rhythmic, exaggerated tone.”
These tips aren’t specific to reading, but they are helpful to engaging baby’s interest in books at this age!
You’ll probably want to stick to short, colorful board books that rhyme and have a fun rhythm.
Six to 18 Months
Along the lines of Dr. Sears’ recommendations, time your book-reading to when your baby or toddler is well rested and has had a snack. Get into reading to your child with fun voices, and let them point to the pictures that capture their attention. Don’t try to rush, and don’t expect to read through a book as you would to an older child.
For this age, I like choosing books that have simple (but realistic) pictures of animals or objects, and names of what’s in the picture. Of course, now is a good time to introduce shorter, classic picture books too! Lots of classics are available in board book format- perfect for little ones who can be a tad rough with books.
18 months to Three Years
My, what a fun stage! Your little one is probably extremely active by now, and interested in so many things besides cuddling on your lap with a good book. There’s a whole world to explore!
My youngest son (now two and a half), goes in spurts where he loves being read to, and times when he shows almost no interest at all. We usually visit our library twice a week, so he is getting exposure to books of all kinds, and his older siblings are always bringing something home. Sometimes, I’ll show him a book and say, “do you want to bring this home?” and the book is flat out rejected! If it’s something I really think he’ll enjoy, I stash it in our stroller anyway and bring it home. At times, he will grab a book from a low display at the library and ask me to read it to him, so I do that while the big kids are occupied with something else.
At home, the best time for me to read to my toddler is when he seems bored (like when he starts “getting into everything” and nothing else holds his attention). I’ll grab a favorite book, and say, “come and sit with me! Let’s read!” and usually, he’s willing to come and sit for a while. He likes turning pages now, and pretending to read on his own after the story is finished.
This is the time when tots are likely to request the same book over and over and over again. It may drive you batty, but it’s actually good for them!
Give Yourself Grace!
Your goal in reading to your little ones shouldn’t be to teach them to read, but as you do, it will make it easier for them to learn! Relax, have fun and do your best to create a routine and an atmosphere for reading. Some days, I don’t read to my children at all! Life happens, so give yourself some grace, and try again if you’ve gotten out of the habit.
Follow me on Pinterest to get some ideas for books to read!
Do you read to your young children? What tips would you give to those who want to get started?
Becky is a wife of eight years and stay at home mom to three young children. She aspires to encourage women in Biblical truth on her blog, Happy Christian Home