Essential Tips for Reading to Your Baby or Toddler

happy loving family. pretty young mother reading a book to her daughters

What you read with your infant isn’t as important as the fact that you spend time reading together; even your parenting magazine could work if you read it with plenty of expression! But some books do work better than others for babies.

  • Infants hear very well, but their eyesight isn’t so great. Because they don’t see well, very young babies might respond best to books with simple, bold pictures and lots of contrast between colors. Books with bold black and white illustrations have very good contrast. Hold the book about 12 inches from your baby’s eyes.
  • Wordless books let you make up the story as you go along.
  • Books with interesting sounds, rhythms and rhymes – for example, books of nursery rhymes, songs and poetry – will help your child understand spoken language.
  • Even older babies don’t “read” pictures as well as we do, so look for books that have simple illustrations showing things your child will recognize from his own world.
  • As your baby grows she’ll become more active during read-aloud time – she’ll become your “reading partner.” Her side of the partnership may involve chewing, banging or throwing the book. Infants need books that can survive being explored in this way! Choose chunky board books; washable cloth or vinyl books (these can be good for bath-time read-alouds, too); touch-and-feel books, which invite children to explore with their fingers; and interactive books that have flaps to lift and other parts that move.
  • As your baby starts to understand a few simple words, look for books that focus on familiar things – toys, animals, people, food, his environment.

Afro mother with cute baby reading story book in the living room at home

How Reading Helps Baby Development

Your infant has no clue what you’re reading, but even newborns can learn from books.

  • Language. Babies learn language from their first days. Every new sound they hear in their native tongue creates a connection in the brain, “hard-wiring” it for language. When you read with your baby from books, you expose her to a rich range of sounds.
  • Attention span and listening skills. Read-aloud time improves a child’s attention span and ability to listen. Studies of reading aloud to infants have shown that babies’ attention spans stretch from three to 30 minutes after just a few read-aloud sessions.
  • Love of books. Babies who have strong positive experiences with books early on are more likely to turn into lifelong readers and learners.
  • Connection. Newborns can’t see as well as adults, but they hear very well. Since eyesight takes time to develop, infants listen for the familiar voices of their caregivers and feel comforted. A calm baby can devote lots of energy to developing.