Reading to Infants and Toddlers

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There are many benefits of reading to young children. Being read to helps children develop language and emotional skills. Reading also supports bonding between babies and their caregivers. The best part? It is never too early—or too late—to start reading to the children in your life! Sometimes, it can be intimidating to read to infants and toddlers. You may wonder,
“What’s the point—do they even understand?” or think, “They never sit still long enough to hear anything anyway!” However, many researchers argue that reading to children—and from a very young age—is the single most important activity you can do to prepare them to learn to read. Reading to infants and toddlers sets the stage for a later love of reading and the development of pre-reading skills.

ZERO TO THREE offers suggestions for types of books and tips  for shared reading at different stages during infancy and toddlerhood. Here are some guidelines for reading to infants and toddlers.

  • Don’t worry about finishing every book, or even reading all of the words. Focus on the bonding experience.
  • Try to read together every day.
  • Ask questions while you are reading, even if your child can’t yet respond.
  • Read new books, and also read the same books over and over. Babies learn from repetition.  
  • When books aren’t available, talk. Describe the things around you. Narrate what you are doing. Make up a story.

Common Concerns

My baby thinks the book is a snack. This is not only common, it is also appropriate! Babies learn about their environment by putting objects in their mouths to explore the taste and texture. It is also common for babies to explore by ripping. If you can, provide sturdy books that will hold up to biting and tearing. You can also provide books with flaps, mirrors, and new textures to explore.

My baby won’t sit still. This is also developmentally appropriate. Continue to read out loud, even as they move away and explore other parts of the room. Show excitement when they show interest in the book.

We don’t have access to books. Start talking! Oral storytelling is a great way to expose young children to new words and ideas. It is also a great way to share family traditions and to help children learn about their cultural identity.

My child doesn’t enjoy reading together. Be flexible. Try new ways of exploring books, such as looking at the pictures together or flipping through to the pages your child likes. Don’t force your child to sit and focus only on the book; allow them to crawl around or engage with other toys. The goal is to keep the reading experience positive.

Resources


AMY NAPOLI, EXTENSION SPECIALIST | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jackie Steffen and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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