It is never really too young to start reading books with your baby! Babies’ brains are developing foundations of language even before they are able to talk. Sharing with your child a love of books can not only facilitate a close bond with your child, but it can also encourage them to develop a love of reading and attain early literacy skills.
Prior to six months, reading chunky board books or soft fabric books can be a good idea. At this age, babies may come to recognise the book-sharing routine by either becoming calm or widening their eyes, or smiling and kicking to show excitement. Babies will also want to explore books through their senses by grabbing and chewing on the book.
Between 6-9 months, you could try reading short, simple board books with colourful pictures. Your baby may begin to explore books by looking, touching (opening/closing), and mouthing them. By 9 months, they can recognise familiar stories or pictures. Your baby may also continue to occasionally mouth books. In the early years, that is a normal book behaviour and tells us that babies want to explore books!
At 9-18 months, stories with rhymes and repeated phrases that hold your toddler’s attention are ideal. They also love stories with pictures of other babies, children, animals and familiar objects. They may have a favourite story that they request you to repeatedly read. You can begin to ask them simple questions about the pictures, e.g., “where is the cat,” and see if your baby points or gestures.
At 18-24 months, you can begin to introduce longer stories with more complex plots. You may observe your toddler’s sense of humour and see that they enjoy silly rhymes. They are likely to be more active and might even run away when you read. If you keep reading, they will continue to listen and may come back to reconnect and hear more. Look for ways to connect that energy to the story, such as asking your child to hop like the rabbit in the book. Your toddler might also be able to label objects with simple sounds or words, for example, exclaiming “woof!” when she or he sees a picture of a dog. You can also try pausing before you say a favourite line or phrase in the story to see if your toddler will fill in the final word or phrase. Harness your toddler’s growing independence and give your child the “job” of turning pages. While reading, take some time to discuss what’s happening in the pictures and ask questions about the book, such as “Who is hiding behind the tree?” This interaction helps to build your toddler’s thinking and language skills.
Finally, remember that telling your child a story can happen at any time. You can try it during snacks and mealtimes, right before or after nap time, and before bed when you “tell the story” of your child’s day. Each of these moments creates an opportunity to build a deeper connection with your child and to build their language and literacy skills, too.