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Five Tips for Reading to Your Baby

Betsy Gartrell-Judd


Reading is critical to a child's success and development and we know experts advise us to start reading to babies as early as six months. But no one said it would be easy! In this article, find some tips to help offset the frustration factor of reading to a baby.

Cooperation is not vital

You may already be aware that researchers now believe reading to children is essential to their development. But, did you know that reading to very young children -- from as early as six months -- fosters creative thinking, promotes reading as a fun activity, and provides an educational opportunity for children to grow and develop mentally? It also gives children an appreciation and respect for books, enhances language and vocabulary development, and allows for quality family time. Not only that, but the very act of sitting with children and reading to them can boost their self esteem, secure in the knowledge that you consider them to be worth your one-on-one time and attention.

With a list of advantages like that, how can one not be committed to this activity? The mother of two young children myself, I can't help but wonder: Have those researchers ever actually tried to read to a six month old? Or any child under the age of two, for that matter! Since I'm also an avid bookworm, I have always wished to instill this same love for reading within my own children, but I'm finding that it's much harder than I thought it would be. How much brain-building is going on when the book is snatched out of my hands and chewed on moments after I turn to the first page? Are they listening to a word of what I read to them?

Even when you are a true believer, reading to the very young child (but not so young they won't just sit willingly in your lap as you read soothingly to them) can be a frustrating experience. Here are five tips to help you keep those synapses snapping with a minimum of stress and maximum fun!

Five tips for reading to your baby

1. Select the best books

Whether you buy them yourself (recommended for this age group due to the destruction factor) or check them out from the library, finding interesting and age-appropriate books is key to maintaining your baby's interest. such as it is. For children under 18 months, you can't go wrong with heavily-constructed board books, designed to be chewed on and otherwise mauled. Most of these books also feature bright, bold illustrations and simple rhymes or chants to engage even the youngest listeners. Favorites include snappy books like Chicka Chicka ABC or anything by Sandra Boynton (Barnyard Dance and Moo Baa La La La) and classics translated to board books, like Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You.

2. Hide the good stuff

I must tell you: Seeing books mutilated is a hot button of mine. It makes me red-faced and irritated just thinking about it! If you are similarly affected by seeing your precious one unceremoniously ripping the cover off of a treasured book, then do yourself a favor and hide anything you want to remain in good condition. And when you buy the board books, just be prepared for mutilation. Those are not books you can expect to see handed down to your grandchildren.

3. Read daily and read anyway

It's frustrating when you try to read to your child and they either grab the book from you or wander off to another room for exploration. Keep reading anyway. And do it every day. Experts recommend at least 20 minutes per day of reading out loud to young children. When you sit down to read, share a spare book with your child for gnawing on or independent page flipping while you keep reading. Of course, baby will want the book you have, so be prepared to switch back and forth, but keep reading anyway. Memorize some of them (as best you can), so you can keep reading even when the book isn't exactly in front of you - chanting a nursery rhyme works well in a pinch! And if the child wants to ramble about rather than sit next to you, read anyway! It may not seem like it, but they are probably still listening on some level as you persist in reading to them.

4. Dialogue with baby

Another effective method of pursuing books -- which you can alternate with straight reading -- is to discuss the book as you go along. Point to pictures and ask baby what you are pointing to or how a character might be feeling or what kind of action is happening. At first, you will have to answer your own questions, but it won't be long before he is not only providing the answer, but asking some questions of his own. This method is particularly effective for easing the parental frustration factor. It's much easier to read this way when baby is holding the book and insistent on turning pages at a rapid-fire pace.

5. Make your own books

Not only does this encourage reading or wanting to be read to, but it also provides an opportunity for a family activity. You can make a book for or with your baby or young child by cutting sturdy pieces of fabric or cardboard into square pieces. Glue a large, colorful picture of the child, family members, pets, toys, or other things your child may be familiar with on each page. You may also want to glue on a piece of sandpaper, fabric, or other textured items that the child can feel. Write a word or a couple of words in large, clear letters under the picture and bind together by sewing, stapling or using a three-hole punch and yarn or ribbon.

Sweet reward

Sometimes the reward is slow in coming. But if you persist in reading to your tiny rambunctious ones, you will get that reward the first time you hear your toddler chant back a verse you never thought she was listening to in the first place.

Have fun!

Betsy Gartrell-Judd is a mom and the managing editor of, Myria, an online magazine for mothers, and SheKnows, a directory of sites for and/or by women. She and her family live in southern Ohio. This article originally appeared on Myria and is reprinted with permission.

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