Written by Vanessa Penberg, Excellence Baby Academy
Books are incredibly special. They can provide tremendous enjoyment and bring you and your children closer. Reading with your children is a wonderful way to spend time together. It stimulates your child’s developing brain and aids in their cognitive, language, social-emotional, and even fine motor development with the turn of each page. Reading also activates children’s imaginations as they have an opportunity to create and inhabit the worlds that they read about in their minds. Books show us the familiar and teach us about new people, places, and things, thereby expanding your children’s background knowledge and broadening their perspectives. Reading stories about other cultures exposes children to the differences that exist in the world and helps promote curiosity, empathy, and tolerance. Books have the special power of being instructive and aspirational. Furthermore, they can provide guidance to families when teaching morals and values and offer hope and comfort when addressing sensitive topics, such as bullying, separation, or a death in the family. Exposing your child to books as early as possible prepares them for a lifetime love of reading.
Between the ages of zero and two, young children are interested in simple stories about events and objects they know. Both cloth books and small board books with thick cardboard pages that can be easily turned are great for the very young reader. When infants mouth, tap, and play with books they are developing pre-reading skills as they are learning how to position the book to see the pictures. At this age, all exposure to books is positive exposure even if books are destroyed while being lovingly used. Toddlers enjoy stories about how things work. They love books that are predictable and have rhymes and repetitive language.
Keep in mind that it is as important for your child to share the experience of reading with you as it is to listen to the text. To engage your children in reading along with you, it is helpful to ask simple questions about the illustrations (for example, “what is that?”) and give them time to respond (even if your child answers in gibberish). Children enjoy the familiar and are excited by knowing what will happen next, so expect to be asked to read the same book over and over and over again. By actively participating when reading together (helping turn the pages, labeling objects, and talking about the illustrations), children are increasing their vocabulary, background knowledge, and communication skills.
While reading is something that can occur at any time of the day (or multiple times a day), sometimes it can be difficult to get busy infants and toddlers to sit still and attend to a book. Therefore, it can be helpful to introduce books by incorporating them into a bedtime routine when you have a more captive audience. Bedtime stories are a powerful way to bond with your baby as the combination of face-time and skin-to-skin contact provides an essential mix of security, comfort, and ritual. Not only does it feel cozy and nurturing, research has demonstrated that parent-child reading promotes brain development.
Research also demonstrates that a baby’s healthy development largely comes from early attachment experiences when the baby feels secure and that its needs are being met. Healthy, responsive early relationships allow us to think well of ourselves, trust others, regulate our emotions, maintain positive expectations, and utilize our intellectual and emotional intelligence in moment-to-moment problem solving, which are some of the most important skills in school and in life. By turning reading into a cherished activity early on, you are setting your children up to have positive associations with reading and learning when they are older.
Reading to children is so beneficial for overall development that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians speak to parents about the importance of reading to their children from birth. The AAP created a list of suggested books by age and developmental stage (please note this list is intended as a professional resource for pediatricians, but we found it very helpful). The complete list can be found at https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/booksbuildconnections_findingtherightbookforeverychild.pdf.
Listed below are some of our favorite books:
0 – 6 Months
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Black & White by Tana Hoban (or anything in her black and white series)
Look, Look by Peter Linenthal or Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
6 – 12 Months
Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim
Peek-A-Boo by Roberta Grobel Intrater (or others in the Baby Faces Board Book series)
Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes by Annie Kubler (or other song & finger play books in the series)
12 – 18 Months
Dear Zoo (A Life the Flap Book) by Rod Campbell
Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book) by Dorothy Kunhardt
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr and Eric Carle
18 – 24 Months
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
Rain Feet by Angela Johnson
24 – 36 Months
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr and John Archambault
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak