Ideas for Reading to Very Young Children

(Pick and choose from among these suggestions to make book-time more fun.)

The most important thing to remember is that you can customize your book-reading to accommodate the needs of your child. What this means is that you should "experiment" to find ways to make book-time enjoyable for both of you.

  • If your child tends to be squirmy when you're reading, try not reading the text and using your own words, instead. Try pointing to the objects on the page while you or the text "talks" about them. If necessary, disregard the text's story and talk about the pictures in your own words, instead. In many cases, books with "sing-songy" texts will probably be the first ones your child will actually sit through while you read the real text.

  • Put "life" into the reading with your voice. Be expressive. Give different voices to different characters.

  • Move your fingers across the page to show that movement is taking place. (As reading adults, we take so much for granted concerning what we "see" in books. Remember that a child has to learn to shift from 2-D into "life.")

  • You might find that your child enjoys book-time more if, each time you "read" a book, you talk about the same things using the same words. Children love repetition and enjoy it when you say something they expect you to say and they adore the sound of your voice.

  • If parts of an illustration aren't familiar to your child's world, introduce new objects a few at a time, but be sure that you frequently point to and talk about them (eyes, animals, moon, etc.).Gradually, expose your child to more new objects in the illustrations, pointing them out whenever you see them, both in books and in daily life. Anything you do to encourage your child to participate in the story, either while reading or "after the fact" while, say, looking at the moon or at an animal, will enhance enjoyment of the book.

  • Just talk about the pictures, and don't stay on one page too long. (Four seconds is often long enough for the inexperienced listener.) Don't even have high expectations of reading all of the book! Soon enough, you'll no longer be talking about single objects on the page, but about relationships of characters on the page, for instance, or what caused this or that. You may be pleased to find a little "story" tucked away in a corner -- put there by the artist for the observant.

  • Start with "easy-to-read," bright, simple and maybe even aesthetically unappealing (to you, anyway) picture books. Children often need to be taught to appreciate the classy, beautiful art in so many books. Introduce these often among favorites, and when s/he's about 12-18 months old, teach your child to turn pages.

  • If your child is still at the point of needing you to zip right through page-turning at a pretty good clip (to hold her interest), you might find that you shouldn't bother reading text with a plot. Talk about the pictures, instead, and forget the plot for now. Do remember, though, that a book generally "recommended" for much older children can be used with an infant if you use the book creatively.

  • Use the book the way you want to use it. For instance: you don't have to teach numbers to a one-year-old with that beautiful counting book. Just talk about the pictures, instead. You don't have to read what the book says. If the story includes a particular event or emotion you'd rather not present, make up your own version. Children over 16 months particularly enjoy self-concept books emphasizing "me;"at around 2 years, "make-believe" is grasped and immensely enjoyed.

  • When you don't feel like reading, remember that many requests for book-time are merely indications that your child wants to sit and cuddle. Pick a very familiar book and let the child space out on the illustrations, having him indicate when to turn the page. He may repeat all you've ever said, and you just say, "uh-huh." (Compiled by Anita West)

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