When my son was a baby, I visited the library for myself mainly. On one particular day, when he was about six months old, I handed him a baby board book to hold as he sat in the stroller so he had something to hold while I searched for my book of choice. Imagine my surprise when an older lady commented, “Don’t you think he’s a bit too young?”
I’ve thought about that many times in the past 9 years. No, ma’am, I don’t think my son was too young for a book! Was he maybe too young to treat it with gentle reverence? Probably. But babies are never to young for books.
I’ve been thinking about the various “stages” of reading with children, especially reading with my babies. I started reading with my babies from their infancy, and my third child is still just 13 months old. My thoughts on baby reading stages are based on my personal observations of three different babies in a house that is full of book-lovers. It’s not scientific. Still, it’s a reminder that it is never to young to start reading with a baby!
Reading to Infants
The first stage to expect as a response to your reading to your baby (as an infant) is sleep. That’s right: reading to your baby at the youngest age will general put him or her to sleep. This is normal. I expect it and don’t take it personally.
Read to your newborns. Read while you are feeding the baby. Read when you are reading whatever you want to read. Facebook? Email? Read out loud in a conversational voice. You’ll be helping your child toward literacy already.
Reading with Babies and Toddlers
The next stages may appear in different orders. Babies may regress into previous stages. If you start reading to your child at a later age, you may see an older child regressing to previous stages.
The Ripping and Eating Stage
Once you start reading with your baby after infancy, he or she will start picking up books and chewing on the pages. If the pages are fragile paper, the baby will rip the paper and eat the paper. I try to stop the baby from eating it, but if I miss some, I don’t worry too much. It’s just fiber.
The greater concern is that you may lose a book. This happens, and with this too, it is important to not take it too seriously.
Ripping of books is totally normal through the baby and toddler years. Sometimes, it even the preschool years. Kids are still learning to make choices. A parent must teach children to treat books nicely. It’s a hard lesson for a baby or toddler to learn. Putting things in the mouth is a natural way to learn about the world. A baby or toddler may eat or rip a book if he or she does not like a book, or loves it a little bit too much. A book may be ripped or eaten for no reason at all, too. Babies and toddlers don’t have reasons they do things.
It is a fact: a book may need to be replaced, including sturdy board books, if it is around babies or toddlers. If you don’t want it destroyed, consider why you are giving it to a baby or toddler.
But most often, the loss of a book is worth the joy of reading with your child. Trust me, it really is.
The Trying-to-Read Stage
The next stage is picking up books and turning the pages. Sometimes, babies reach this stage while still in the eating books stage. The more your read aloud to a baby, the sooner your little one will try turning the pages. He or she will probably get really excited to turn the pages alone.
Express excitement with your baby or child. Tell her she is doing it right. It may help her learn to not eat and rip books sooner. Then again, it might not. See note above about babies and toddlers not having reasons for doing things.
At some point in the next months, babies will express an interest in you reading the book. He will bring it to you. Maybe he will babble too. Since the child is understanding the purpose of the book, read it with great excitement.
Baby may only want you to read a page or two. He may only want to turn the pages while you read the first word on each page. Maybe he doesn’t want you to read it at all. He may turn pages in reverse order or hold the book upside-down for you. He may want to look at familiar pictures.
If he lets you, you can put the book the right direction. But if he is too excited, be excited yourself, and follow his lead. Sometimes you may read very quickly. The story will not make sense to you but your baby will love it. Sometimes you may read page 2 five times, then page 4, then page 6, then page 2 again a few times. Just go with it. If the pages are upside down, just say whatever words you remember from the previous 10 readings. In what ever order you want.
Other times, forget about reading all together. Find the image that made your child so happy to have the book. Read him the pictures. Point out details and similarities between the pictures and himself or yourself.
The Repeat-Book Stage
Another stage to reading with your baby will be the “repeat books” stage. In this stage, your child will request the same books, over and over again, as the selected reading material. Bear with your child. It is sometimes quite annoying to have to read the same annoying book over and over again. But your child learns something with each read: a word, a concept, a feeling of love, an intonation of a word.
A child may want me to repeat read a book because she loves the story. But it also may be because she remembers the last cuddle with me while I read it to her. Or she recognizes something in a picture and wants to revisit or discuss it.
To make a reread all the more interesting, I read a repeat book with different voices or different inflections. I may put the emphasis on different words and see how Kitty reacts. For older toddlers, I would read or tell the story differently and see if he noticed. I’d sing a book instead of reading it. I may sound silly, but it will make a difference to the child.
Rereading books may not always be fun for the parent. But your toddler loves you for rereading it.
The Reading to One’s Self Stage
Both of my children love library visits, and both of them went through this next stage as toddlers: reading to themselves.
I even got both of them on video when they were about two years old. In each of these videos, I came upon my toddler, unaware, with a camera. My son was sitting next to a library bag, taking one book out at a time. He babbled something and then started turning pages. His mostly unintelligible voice had a lilt to it as he turned pages, and when he came to the last it was clear he knew it was the end. His voice had a note of finality as he closed the cover.
Sometimes I would recognize familiar words. Strawberry was always much more verbal than her older brother had been. She would say the names of familiar items on the pages. “Baby. Cook. Eat. Bug.” Both of my kids would sing the alphabet song when they opened up an alphabet book. My son would intone the lilt of a counting down board book.
The reason this stage was so remarkable to me is that it showed me that even without knowing the actual words, they were demonstrating that reading (and talking while reading) has a rhythm to it. They recognized that books have a story (a beginning, a middle, and an end), and that there is satisfaction at the end of a story. They could recognize the patterns in familiar concept books, whether an alphabet book or a numbers book.
Nurturing a Love of Reading with Babies and Toddlers
My son taught himself to read at a very young age, but my daughter (almost 5) still has no interest in learning as of yet. Consistent and constant reading with your baby or toddlers does not directly transfer in to early reading skills. But, reading with babies and toddlers introduces them in to an essential world. It demonstrates to them that stories and familiarity are to be found in books. It shows them that books are a delight, and that one must treat the books nicely so they will not be ripped. No, books are not for eating.
As a parent, reading to my very little ones is not always easy. Exhaustion sets in around bedtime, and so that is not always the ideal time to sit and read stories of the children’s choice. But when I do read to my baby, I gain a closer bond to her, as well as nurturing early literacy.
I love that early reading has transferred into a love for stories, books, and cuddle time.
Unless otherwise noted, images on these posts are either taken by myself or are used under a no attribution required license from pixabay.com, Dollar Photo Club, depositphotos.com, or GraphicStock.com (affiliate links).