Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading to Babies

Oh, how I love read-aloud!! I always have. I've looked forward to the days when I had a little child of my own to sit on my lap and read good stories to. I've built up my book collection with the classics that every child should have read to them. And now, I have a precious daughter to read to. All the time. Whenever I want.

But. . . reading to a baby can be hard! And for an active baby -- especially in the 6month+ range, where everything goes in the mouth -- books aren't exactly the best toys, unless you want your autographed Kevin Henkes book ripped to shreds and the cover chewed up. When Sus was brand new, I'd read to her on her changing table -- the bookcase was right there by us and I could choose book after book. Now I've switched to strictly board books (we try a paper one every once in a while, but as of yesterday she still wasn't ready), and I thought I'd share some practical tips for reading to a little booky-monster.

1. Be realistic. It's ok if you can only get through a couple pages. Of course, it's good to build on this, but by choosing short and simple board books that take less than a minute to read, you can set a practical reading goal for your baby. Mamas-of-babies might try to read The Velveteen Rabbit because it was a gift from great-grandma and then get frustrated and think "my baby doesn't like to be read to". Here are some types of books I like:

  • Board books with all the words on one page -- sometimes it makes it easier, because I can look at one side and let her play with the other
  • Board books with a whole thought/story/poem per page -- keeps your sanity! You actually read something whole, not "Spot went to the. . . " over and over.
  • Board books with large illustrations -- some even take up a whole page (another reason I like the words to be on one side: that way the pictures can be bigger
2. Give Freedom. Try to hold the book so that your child has some freedom to explore what you're reading. For example, I hold our bedtime book so that all the pages on one side stay tight together, but she can open and close the cover over and over if she wants. Since all the words are on one side, I can still see what I'm reading. For some reason, she loves the front and back covers of her favorite books. It's good for babies to learn to turn their own pages; it teaches them how books work so they can learn to look at books by themselves. I usually try to read through the book as far as I can (you can usually tell when the good listening time is ending), and then let her turn back and forth to pages. Sometimes she has favorite pages and I read them over and over. I have those pages memorized.

3. Make it interactive. It's more than reading with expression, doing voices, etc. I had that down reading to bigger kids. For a baby, I point to parts of the pictures (she usually follows suit and touches what I touch -- this is all good learning), and I try to touch the picture that goes with what I'm reading. I make the lions in Daniel's den roar (softly) to catch her attention (it doesn't scare her). I say "Ooooooooooooh. . . the baby. . . look, he's so cute. . . " and slowly pet the picture over and over to to convey what I think of that cute picture. She doesn't have words to tell me what she thinks of the cute picture, but she can touch it and make sounds like me. In this way, she is interacting with the book.

4. Have a routine and build it up. Our bedtime reading time has really extended and improved since even just a month or so ago. I read from Baby's Hug-a-Bible (read my review by clicking the link -- I love it!) to her each night at bedtime. I've recently found that if we snuggle up and I hold the book pretty close to us (not on my lap like I was doing), the picture fills more of her field of vision, and she's not distracted to look at other things. That may not always work, but for now, she's had extended attentive listening time this way. Of course, it's nice to have spontaneous reading times whenever your baby picks up a book, but it's wonderful to have a storytime before bed and enjoy a wonderful routine. I choose to read a God-centered book because this is the beginning of our devotional time together. As time goes on, we can read storybook Bibles and then just the actual Bible. But for now, I am teaching her that this time is special, and this book is wonderful.

Please share your tips on reading to a baby! Have you had success with reading paper-page books? If so, please share how you do that without communicating that books aren't for touching -- I just can't figure that out!


Tina and Todd said...

We have always read to Liam since before his birth:) I always would just tell him 'we use our gentle hands with books' ... Not sure if it will help ... but Liam has only ripped one page of a book ever and I have read and allowed him access to all his books. He has chewed the corners of a few of his board books though ... those darn teeth:)
I love it when he goes and gets books for me to read all the time ... he wants me to be the walking book reader:) I am now teaching him to read by himself:) He seems to think mommy's reading is more fun:)

Emily said...

When would you say that they are old enough to start reading chapter books? I thought about starting some wth Mercedes at naptime.

Magistra said...

Today was a rare occasion when I actually got to sit down, eat lunch and relax for a bit and I'm so glad your article was here to enjoy! Jackson's (1 yr next wk) first book was Treasure Island when he was an infant (Wuthering Heights in utero). Of course we've moved on to more baby-appropriate books for now! Your tips are helpful, but mostly it's nice encouragement to continue reading, even when your baby is obsessed with the first page and the book is never actually read at all. I teach Virgil and Homer at school all day, then come home to squiggly, wiggly worm who won't get past the cover and it can be discouraging. You reminded me to keep the goal in mind while enjoying the journey! I am pretty excited that now Jackson often pulls out a book on his own, then sits and flips through the pages without my help or prompting. :D Don't worry, Odysseus, he'll learn your story someday. In the meantime, we'll enjoy Stellaluna in a boardbook!

Gretchen said...

Tina -- I'm impressed! Sus just goes nuts with the paper pages. Part of it is she wants to turn them because they make noise and then she gets frustrated because it's hard (at least I think that's it). Maybe I'll pick some cheapos to keep in her toy box and let her practice on.

Emily -- I'd say she's old enough. Pick something with short chapters like Charlotte's Web or something. I remember reading that Annie Oakley book to Augusta and she was 4. Plenty of 4 year olds are old enough (and some even younger if they have older siblings being read to).

Christie -- Happy almost birthday to Jackson! I'm sure he'll be the best reader on the block in just a couple more birthdays. :)

Tina and Todd said...

Gret ... you are probably right about the fun crinkly sound ... Quinn LOVES that right now too ... No paper books for him ... and he is definitely not as gentle as Liam:) Great IDEA about cheap ones ... rummage sales:) Just found some fun books today for 10 cents ... ")
PS ... I so wish we lived closer ... it would be sooo fun!