John Holt said, ” We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
This has been my approach to educating my children thus far in their young lives and this is how I have approached the subject of reading with them – letting them lead the way. That being said, I think that my kids have become the little bookworms they are in part because I made books accessible, I helped them explore, and I set the example. A lot of what I did was unintentional, especially with my first child; it happened because I loved to read and I loved books. However, I have learned, from experience, that there are some helpful things to know and do as you are introducing babies to books.
1. Children will do as you do, Not as you say
I have noticed that my baby always wants the thing that I have, the thing that I am using. My cell phone is a hot item because she sees me using it so often. I tried giving her an old cell phone – one with a charged battery that lights up and makes all the noises, very authentic – but it only provides a moment’s distraction. She doesn’t want just any cell phone, she wants my cell phone – the one she sees me using. Babies are like that.
If you want your baby to appreciate books, you need to appreciate books. Babies look to the adults in their lives to learn how to be and what to do. If they see you reading, they will want to read. If they see that books are important to you, books will become important to them. Giving your baby books and telling them how fun they are is futile if they don’t see the adults in their lives turning pages too.
2. Make Books Accessible
Babies are naturally curious and if there are books around, they will want to check them out (especially if they see big people doing it too). So, have books around. Keep them face out so your baby can see the pictures on the cover (I’ve found that baskets are better than shelves). Keep them where your baby can reach them on their own. Have a variety of books and pay attention to what sparks their interest.
3. Say Yes!
If you want your baby to love books, don’t worry too much about ripped pages or chewed corners. If every time they get their chubby little hands on a book someone takes it away, or calls out a warning, they will begin to make negative associations. Sure, you can show them how to properly hold a book and turn the pages, and you can let them know that books are for reading, not eating. But then, relax. Buy some board books. Buy some cheap paperbacks at the thrift store. If they get a little mangled, don’t worry about it. When Esme was a baby, I had to replace her favorite book (On Mother’s Lap) three times, but that was the first book she memorized.
4. Keep it positive
It is easier to help your baby have positive experiences with books and reading if you can let go of your agenda for them. You may think you know how it should go – maybe you want to get to the end of a book at story time, and you want to read every word on the page, and you want your baby to sit and listen. But what if that isn’t what your baby wants? You are bigger, you are “in charge” and ultimately you are probably capable of making them do it your way, but it won’t be a positive experience. If you have to force a wiggly baby to sit until the end of a story, they will learn to despise books. Follow their lead and it will be a positive experience. Maybe you only get through one page a day. Maybe you start at the end of the book instead of the beginning. Maybe you read it upside down. Maybe you just point to pictures and make funny noises. As long as you keep it positive, you are still facilitating a love of books.
5. Go to the Library
The library is one of the best places in the world, no matter your age. Take your baby to the library often. Check out all the libraries in your area, if you are lucky enough to have more than one around. Check out the programs for babies that your library offers. All of my babies have loved Baby/Toddler storytime programs at our local libraries. We have even participated in baby sign language programs, music and movement programs, and arts & crafts activities at the library. Eila, at just four months old, was an active participant at our library’s baby storytime – she would clap and coo and giggle for the entire 30 minute program. We go to the library every week and it is something all of my kids look forward to.
6. Read, and Read, and Read
Read a little something every day. Read out loud. Maybe your baby doesn’t want to sit and listen or even look at pictures, but read anyway. They may be scooting across the room while you read Goodnight Moon aloud to yourself, but they’re probably still listening and they are definitely noticing that you are reading. When Esme was a baby, I found that reading poetry aloud helped her fall asleep. I’m sure she didn’t understand a word of all that Longfellow I was reciting, but the rhythms and the sounds were relaxing – poetry books became a positive experience for her at a very, very young age. Read your gardening magazine aloud, or a brief from work, or the how-to manual for your fridge. Just read, and read aloud.
7. Babies Deserve Good Books Too
Quality counts, even if you’re only six months old. There are so many bad children’s books out there. There are also so many wonderful children’s books available too – pay attention. Don’t just buy any old book with a cartoon character on the front; introduce your babies to good, quality, worthwhile literature from the very beginning. Look for books that are well written and beautifully illustrated. I promise, your baby will respond better to a good book. A few of our baby favorites are:
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear Eric Carle
- My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
- Black on White by Tana Hoban
- I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis
- Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan
- The Napping House by Don and Audrey Wood
- Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
- Hush, Little Baby by Marla Frazee