Reading to my children. It was honestly one of the things I couldn’t wait most for. I’ve always envisioned us snuggled up in the corner of the couch, soft fleece blanket pulled up to our chins, talking about the choices our favorite characters were making, coming up with our silliest voices to read in, and admiring the intricate artwork that splashed across the pages. I envisioned us rocking slowly in her room, reading, “just one more!” book before eyes got heavy and it was time for sweet dreams. I envisioned myself panicking at the realization it had been all too quiet in the house for a tad too long (because we know that’s never a good thing), only to find her curled up with a book in her little chair.
Maybe a little grandiose, but my dream nonetheless. We’ll get there one day.
For now, however, we’re still in the early stages. She’s young, we’re in no rush, and we’re just beginning to lay the groundwork for what I hope to be a beautiful relationship with getting lost in books of all kinds. After teaching elementary school and specializing in working with young at-risk readers, I know how vital the early years are for her success later. Start small, start early, and have fun!
There’s no such thing as “too early”. Nope, start right from when you bring them home from the hospital if you want! Reason enough could be the simple fact that your voice is the most soothing sound to a baby’s ears and being close to you is all they want to do. After all, your sweet voice is what they listened to for those 40 weeks, right? Bust out those nursery rhymes and lullabies – they don’t judge our vocal abilities (yet). Whether it be a playful children’s book, an article out of the sports section, or the latest gossip out of your US Weekly, read aloud sometimes – your baby will thank you for it. Even if its reading a bed time book as they sleep snugly on your chest – read. 🙂
Don’t sweat it if they aren’t interested. At 15 months old sometimes Tayler still doesn’t have interest. And that’s OK. Chewing, holding, and using books for just about anything but reading is sometimes part of the deal. I don’t know if we’ve ever actually finished a full book! Sometimes just getting them to grab at and hold books is the first step. Don’t sweat it, their interests will continue to change. Just keep exposing them and making it fun! If you want to get some reading in without the constant grabbing, some of my moms suggest sitting with baby and have dad do the reading to the both of you!
The many language benefits. Listening skills. Memory. Vocabulary. Speech patterns. Intonation and inflection. And the rhythm and rhyme of our language. Just to name a few! The more we read aloud and expose our kids to words, the richer the network we build in their brain. While they may not be able to use everything they’re learning yet, there’s certainly a lot going on! As they grow older, there is no shortage of research that demonstrates the profound effect reading and books will have on their later academic success.
The earliest of skills. A lot of times we don’t recognize or we forget that some of the earliest skills don’t actually involve what we consider to be reading. Myself included! Things as simple as recognizing books, being able to hold them correctly, learning how to properly turn pages, knowing that we read the words on the page left to right, pointing to the covers, and knowing that a book tells a story or gives us information are all necessary and important skills! So when you see your little one sitting on the floor, holding a book open, and babbling and pointing – pat yourself on the back! You’re doing great!
Let them lead. Maybe they just feel like opening and closing. Maybe they feel like simply listening to the first page over and over. Or if your little one is like my daughter, maybe they just want books with pictures of animals to point to and see how long you’ll make all the animal noises for. By letting them lead and using books how they want in the early stages will send the message that books can be and will continue to be a positive part of their day.
Dont forget about pictures! Sometimes I get anxious to jump right into the words, but paying attention to the pictures is such an important part of developing early readers (probably more so than the words at first!). You’ll notice many books geared for infants are filled with bright and vivid colors, varied shapes, and patterns. These are all great for early brain and eye development. Another infant favorite are books filled pictures of close family and friends. Who wouldn’t want to see the faces of the people they love and trust most! As they get a little older pictures are critical in building vocabulary, sparking imagination, and learning that books can tell a story. Pictures are also a great tool for teaching concepts such as colors, counting objects, and recognizing shapes! Once they begin to learn to read they’ll be taught to use pictures in relation to the text, so its never too early to start talking about them now!
Vary your home library. Touch and feel books with different textures. Peek-a-boo books. Nursery rhymes. Counting, shapes, and ABC’s. Picture books of first words. Favorite characters. Board books. Vinyl books. Cloth books. Bathtub books. Non-fiction books about weather, animals, potty training, gaining a new brother or sister, sports, etc. Poetry. Award winning illustrators. Books with repeating patterns. Children’s classics. The list goes on and on. Having a varied library can better accommodate changing interests and developmental stages, as well as keeping things fun and interesting for mom and dad!
Make books accessible. If we want our children to take a genuine interest books, we need to have them out and available. Some will get chewed, some will get ripped, and in our house some went swimming in the bath tub. This part of it always make me cringe, but it’s a part of the process and needs to be accepted as so. My suggestion is to have a little tub or two available in the common play areas with some books that match their current developmental stage or interest area. Switch them out every so often to keep it exciting, but keep the beautiful copy of The Giving Tree up on the shelf for mom to get down when appropriate. Making books accessible sends the message that books aren’t just designated for before bedtime, but can be explored whenever their heart desires.
Commit to it. Congratulations! You just received the job of Character Voice Extraordinaire! Rise to the occasion, my friend. Committing to characters in books, getting silly reading rhymes or songs, and changing your pitch and tone are not only amusing for your blossoming little reader, but its just another way to teach them about how our language works and encourages their social and emotional development. When your face, tone, and voice show sadness when a character’s dog gets lost, you’re teaching your child about their emotions and the effect certain events can have on humans.
The Big Picture. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, shake it off. While all of this information is beneficial to have in regards to reading to our children, there is only one, big important concept to take away and keep in mind. Reading to our children, especially in these early stages, is all about the relationship we create with books. If anything, make reading books an enjoyable time bonding with mom and dad. Create a time where you and your child can explore, learn, laugh, and get silly together. Work hard to show them that books are a source of joy, calm, and a catalyst for quality time resting in mom’s lap. And better yet, be a role model by showing your children that you read too!
A few ways to build your library:
- Utilize the public library! Use that library card till its so worn they give you a new one. Endless books are at your fingertips! Sometimes libraries also run free book programs!
- Garage sales & Mom to Mom sales. Gently used books for pennies? Yes please! No one should be above buying books that have already been loved.
- Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Same idea, different place. I’ve found some real classics for my classroom library. You never know what treasures you’ll find!
- Set up book swaps with other moms. Change up your library by borrowing someone else’s!
- Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s isn’t available yet everywhere, but its worth visiting and finding out. If its available in your area, expect a free book sent to your home from birth to 5 years of age! (If your address doesn’t work, try grandma’s!).
(And on a side note, don’t all these pictures demonstrate the fact that it’s mom that is always behind the camera!? 🙂 )