How To Read To A Baby or Toddler

Reading with Baby and Toddler - Emma Apple

Studies have shown that reading to your baby and toddler has lasting and far reaching effects on literacy development. Add to that the bonding and cuddle time that sharing books can provide, the broad vocabulary exposure, and the beautiful art in picture books, and reading with babies is unquestionably one of the most valuable bonding experiences there is.

Having said that, if you’ve ever tried reading to an infant or toddler, you know it can sometimes be a discouraging, page ripping, baby wrestling, book eating experience! Here are some tips on how you can make reading with baby worthwhile, even when story time gets a bit chaotic.

Reading with Baby and Toddler - Emma Apple
Let baby help choose

Ok, hear me out. Sometimes you’re only pretending to let baby choose, I know. Sometimes they’ll look at a book, or reach for one, and you tell them the name of the book and praise them for making a “choice”. As your baby gets nearer to 1, they’ll develop favorites and can actually choose which book they want. If they have a favorite, give them a choice between that and another book, be prepared to read the favorite, every time.

Choose a different spot

If you have a special chair you sit in, and baby is not interested in cuddling on the chair with a book, try laying on the bed or even standing up while reading a book, reciting a poem or story from heart, or even just singing a lullaby. Hearing your voice, and a variety of words and tones, is wonderful for baby’s language and social development, so change things up, but keep reading!

You don’t always have to cuddle either, especially when a baby is very small, they won’t be looking at the pictures, lay them on a playmat or put them in a bouncer and read the story with animated faces and big smiles so they can watch you while they listen.

Read half a book

Sometimes things start off well, but by the time you get to the middle of the book, or maybe just a couple of pages in, baby is restless and uninterested, or grumpy and ready for bed. It’s ok to end the story there, don’t feel like you need to finish the story if the child isn’t interested. Try another book, the favorite book (again), or just try again tomorrow.

Reading with baby can sometimes be a page ripping, baby wrestling, book eating experience! Click To Tweet

Summarize the story (or just make up your own)

Treat it like a wordless picture book! Shorten sentences, summarize pages, or just describe what’s happening in the pictures. Ask baby where things are, then point them out. Make it your own, have fun with it!

Put baby down

Let’s face it, some babies just aren’t that cuddly, and sometimes, even if they are, they’d rather stand up, or sit next to you, or crawl around you, or pull your hair… you get the idea. It’s ok if storytime isn’t cuddly. I particularly love picture books, so sometimes I just sit on the couch with one, reading to the room, the rest of the family might not admit it, but they love it when I do this too.

Reading with Baby and Toddler - Emma AppleRead the same book – again

It’s fun to have a variety, to introduce your baby to all the wonderful picture books on your shelf, and from the library, with new words and new characters. The New shelf in the children’s library, is my most favorite place. Sometimes though, you just have to read the favorite (or the few selected favorites) if you’re both going to enjoy story time. Read it once, read it twice, read it every night for a month! If you want to introduce new books, you can try adding a short new book first, and then end with the favorite.

Read your own book

Especially when babies are very small, it doesn’t matter so much about the story, but the vocabulary, the intonation, the sound of your voice, and the connection between you. So try grabbing your e-reader or a book from your to-read pile, and read that aloud instead.

Skip the story

As many benefits and as much enjoyment as reading with your child can bring, sometimes it’s too much stress and story time just doesn’t work out. It’s better to skip the story, than to force it and make it a stressful experience. Wait until you’re both up to it, and try again then. Keep trying, but don’t beat yourself up if story time doesn’t always work out. Try an audio book!

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