Children choose books first and foremost because they find them colourful and appealing. They make connections between the book they have in front of them and elements of their daily lives. “The ages indicated on some books can be a guideline for parents, but an 18-month-old could very well be attracted to a documentary picture book intended for an older child,” explains François Blain. The best book for your child is therefore one that interests him, one he chooses himself, although you should still encourage him to explore a variety of books.
Some books, however, are optimal for stimulating a child’s awareness at each different stage of development. Julie Brousseau, a psychologist and early childhood consultant at CHU Sainte-Justine, has these tips to share.
Babies explore books using all their senses: they touch them, look at them, bring them up to their mouths and, when their little hands become more agile, they try to turn the pages. It’s therefore a good idea to give them sturdy books in a variety of textures: fabric books, plastic-coated books (perfect for bathtime) or cardboard books (which are easy for them to handle).
Get him a library card so that he can discover the pleasure of choosing his own books.
“As babies´ attention spans are limited and they don’t stay in one position for long, the books they’ll find most interesting are those with simple, recognizable pictures and not much text,” she observes. With books like this you can sit with your child and look through them, naming the objects, animals and people. You’ll have fun making connections with similar people and things in the baby’s own life: “Look at the bird, he’s in a tree, just like the one in front of our house!”, “Oh look, here’s a grandma rocking a little baby just like you!”
As your child grows and starts walking and exploring more of his world, the books he’ll enjoy most are picture books. You can look at the pictures with him and name the objects in the book to build his vocabulary. “Since he’s at an age where he is becoming increasingly aware of others around him, he’ll be fascinated by books that have photos, especially photos of children,” Julie Brousseau adds. He’s also starting to learn the names of some of the parts of his body. You can show him picture books on that topic and ask him to point out with his finger or name a part of the body: “Look, the little boy is washing his hair”, “Show me the baby’s nose.”
“Hunt and seek” books and books with flaps that your child can lift are also a great way for the two of you to interact. He’ll have fun looking and discovering new things. He’ll feel proud when he guesses what’s under the flaps or when he locates objects you asked him to find.
From 10 to 15 minutes of reading a day are enough to foster a love of reading in children under five.
Later, short stories, especially stories about topics that reflect your child’s own experiences (e.g. bedtime, going to the park, sharing toys, the arrival of a baby brother or sister, using the potty…) will start to take on greater interest. As you’re familiar with what he likes and what happens in his daily life, you can go beyond the words of the story and ask your child questions. If he isn’t talking much yet, it can be fun to ask questions and then answer them at the same time: “Where’s the little boy? On the swing at the park. Whee! He’s having fun with his friends!”
Simple stories that have a beginning, a main action and an ending will then start to appeal more to your child. As his imagination is quickly blossoming, he’ll enjoy hearing stories and making up his own endings. It can be fun to stop reading for a moment and ask your child to imagine what’s going to happen next in the story (e.g. “What do you think will happen to Little Red Riding Hood when she gets to her grandmother’s house?”).
The older your child gets, the more he’ll identify with the characters in the stories. He’ll enjoy series of books that feature the same character or characters (e.g. Caillou, Toopy and Binoo, Galette…). Your child will have fun seeing his “hero” in a new adventure and talking about it with you at the end of the story. One activity you can explore with your youngster is making up a story with him in which the main character is the hero of his favourite books. This is a great way for you to enjoy being creative together!