As an English teacher and an avid reader myself, I know that a love of reading starts early. When my daughter was 13 months old, she brought me a book to read. My heart did a happy flip when she first did that, and it still does every time she brings me a book to read to her. She’s 15 months now, and when she brings a book she sits down nicely, and lets me read short books to her without interruption. Sometimes we read for ten minutes, other times we’ll read for twenty or longer. Sometimes she’ll just sit and thumb through her books on her own for independent play.
Other moms of young ones are sometimes surprised when they see this, and I’m often asked how I got my child to enjoy books and be gentle with them.
I’m not an expert by any means. This is my first and only child (at least for now), and I know every baby is different. Some toddlers are happier destroying books rather than listening to them. That said, I’m going to share how I introduced books to my daughter.
1.) Introduce books early.
By early, I mean right away. I read short books, chapter books, the newspaper, etc. out loud to my daughter from the time she came home – if she wasn’t wailing, anyway. I had read that just hearing mom’s (or dad’s) voice is beneficial for language development, so we talked to her whenever we remembered. If we didn’t know what to talk about, we narrated everything we were doing, and read things we were reading. I also had no idea what to do with my generally fussy baby when I was alone with her, so I read to her while we were doing tummy time, while she was on her activity mat, etc.
Before my daughter was mobile, I even read one chapter a day of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone whenever she would tolerate me reading to her. That didn’t last that long, and we only got through the first ten chapters… but still. She got used to hearing my voice as I read, and got used to hearing spoken language. Quite honestly, I felt kind of strange doing it – after all, it was a very one-sided conversation at the time. Now, hearing my daughter babble away and using actual words (only a few, but still!), I think it was a good choice for us.
2.) Incorporate books into your routine.
From the moment we established a bedtime routine, my husband and I made sure books were a part of it. We established a bedtime routine when our daughter was around 10 or 11 weeks old, and it was always bath/books/(nurse)/bed. After my daughter weaned herself just after her first birthday, it shifted slightly to dinner/brush teeth/bath/books/bed.
The amount of books varied at first, dependent on her patience. Now, we do a solid three-books-before-bed routine.
Books in our bedtime rotation: Oh the Thinks You can Think board book by Dr. Seuss, Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See board book by Bill Martin Jr., The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Goodnight Moon is always the last book, with the other three in rotation.
I also try to do a few books before a nap, as a settling activity.
3.) Have developmentally appropriate materials.
Short board books, touchy-feely books, lift-the-flap books, and soft books are specifically designed for little hands and can take a beating, whether it’s drool, gumming, or just rough handling. Some that we like:
Also, some book-like toys may be in order. Books should be fun, after all.
This V-Tech toy “book” sings or plays the tune of a few nursery rhymes, and has “pages” that baby can turn.
4.) Don’t just read the text. Use books as a learning tool.
Babies are little sponges – they absorb everything. I used board books and picture books to point out and identify items. Don’t be afraid to use descriptors, either – e.g.: “Look, a bird. A red bird.” – while pointing them out.
I allowed my daughter to turn the page, to open flaps in lift-a-flap books, etc. just to allow her to get a feel for handling books.
5.) Teach your baby to be gentle.
Easier said than done, but it is possible! Anytime my little one got rough with a book (or anything that needed to be handled with care), it got taken away with a calm but firm “You need to be gentle with books (or whatever it was)” explanation.
When my daughter demonstrated she was able to be gentle, I introduced regular (non board) picture books. Consistency is key. Any sign of rough handling, and the book was taken away. Again, consistency was key, and now I rarely (if ever) have to tell my 15-month-old to be gentle with her books.
6.) Bring books as a distractor/activity when out and about.
I have nothing against technology, but I personally don’t want to automatically resort to using my phone or tablet to distract my kid when we’re out and about. That’s not to say I haven’t done it, and I have no judgment for those that do – sometimes, as parents, we just want to get through the errand and avoid the meltdown. I get it. I just try to avoid the tech as much as possible and see it as an absolute last resort. I always keep a few small, short books and flashcards with me to keep my little one entertained while we’re out to lunch, grocery shopping, etc.
7.) Keep books visible and accessible.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” seems to be very accurate with my toddler. If she doesn’t see it, she doesn’t play with it. She knows where her toys are – we keep bins and she will go to them and pull stuff out – but generally, if she can’t see it, she doesn’t care about it. That’s why we have books everywhere, and they are very visible.
Some families do book baskets, and I’ve seen tons of ideas on Pinterest. We have good old shelves, and they all display the books very nicely. The books are all within easy reach for my toddler.
If readers are wondering, the white shelves are from Target, but I haven’t seen them in stores recently. The white shelves also look full, but I can probably fit at least another ten to fifteen small books in them. The toy storage underneath was a bonus.
8.) Don’t force it.
A love for reading starts early. I read somewhere (when I find the source, I’ll link it) that reading with your little ones teaches them to associate books with love.
However, that association comes from making books something pleasant and enjoyable, not something forced. Try to read during calm, happy times, and if baby’s not having it, don’t worry about it. You can always try again.
9.) Read with gusto.
Make up voices for characters, read with a rhythm, even sing the words. In other words, make reading fun!
10.) Create a space for reading.
We plop down and read anywhere on the floor in the living room, but we also have a few designated “reading” areas. We have a little reading chair for her, and when she’s a little older we plan to make a reading “teepee” of sorts in her room. When we read, we also make sure to limit distractions. The TV is off, and if we have music on we either turn it down very low or turn it off.
Seeing my little girl happily bringing books to me, and sitting nicely while I read to her, tells me I did something right. These are the things I did and continue to do, and they seem to be working. I hope these tips were helpful. Happy reading!