Even if they can’t read, babies are still curious about books. Here’s how to raise a reader!
Think your baby is too young to enjoy books? Think again! When you read to your little one, they get to snuggle up with you and hear your voice. This helps you build a strong attachment bond. Looking at books together will also help your baby learn all kinds of things.
Playing with books
You can introduce books to your child at a very early age. Baby books are very tactile, making them appealing to babies as young as 4 or 5 months. Plus, they have illustrations designed to spark your little one’s curiosity. In their first few months, your baby will mostly want to chew on, throw, and hit their books. They won’t be able to focus on the illustrations for very long. This is all perfectly normal.
At around age 1, your baby will want to open and close the book themself, and they’ll have a slightly longer attention span. They’ll also start to turn the pages.
The benefits of early exposure to books
- Looking at books with your baby supports language development, especially when you point to the pictures and name what you see.
- Reading together is an opportunity to interact and bond with your little one.
- When you read, your baby is exposed to their mother tongue—a language they’ve been hearing since they were in the womb.
- When introduced early, books become sources of enjoyment. Your child will associate reading with spending quality time with you. If their first experience with books is at school, where learning to read is a requirement, they may develop a negative association with books and think of reading as a chore.
Children benefit most when they start reading at home. Without your involvement, the benefits of reading are much less significant.
- Books foster your child’s imagination and curiosity. Your little one will quickly understand that stories are doors to other worlds. As they grow, books will help them escape into their imaginations, relax, and face their fears.
- Books are important sources of knowledge. With you by their side, your child will subconsciously learn how to interact with a book, pick up new words, and discover the basics of writing: we write from left to right, we turn pages, the letters on the page have meaning, etc. Before they even start school, they’ll become acquainted with letters, numbers, colours, and shapes—all thanks to books.
How to read to your baby
- Let them play with the book. For instance, your baby may want to touch, chew on, or throw their book. When they’re older, they may use books to build make-believe roads, towers, or tents for stuffed animals.
- When looking at picture books, pay attention to what interests your baby the most. Point to and name what you see, or ask your baby to show you specific things.
- Always identify what’s in the picture using the same word to help your child learn. In baby books, the same words often come up more than once.
- Repeat words and sounds. Mimic the sounds of animals and vehicles. You can also imitate the noises your baby makes during storytime to entertain them and encourage them to practice talking.
- Be expressive and talk a lot during storytime.
- Point to the illustrations and describe what you see. Your baby will likely be interested in pictures of household objects, vehicles, animals, and other babies.
- If you see something in real life that appears in your child’s book—or vice versa—point it out. This will help your little one associate words to their meaning. For instance, they’ll learn that the furry, four-legged animal in the neighbour’s yard is a dog.
- Make books part of playtime. Hide books under cushions or blankets for your baby to find, or play peekaboo by hiding behind a book.
- Be theatrical. Get in touch with your inner actor: do different voices, act out scenes, and exaggerate your facial expressions to get your little one excited about reading. You could even use a puppet to voice one of the characters.
- Involve your child. Ask them to point to an object on the page. The more you engage your child, the more attentive they’ll be.
Remember, you don’t have to read the book cover to cover!
Choosing a book
Babies need to explore using all five senses. In addition to reading and singing stories to your little one, you should let them touch, smell, and even chew on their books.
Here are a few great options for babies:
- Board books are designed to withstand being baby-handled. Waterproof bath books are also great for the tub.
- Cloth books often have fun sensory elements, like mirrors and rattles.
- Touch-and-feel books have different materials and textures.
Your baby is also sure to enjoy books that include songs, nursery rhymes, or poems.
Choose colourful books with simple illustrations that your child will recognize (e.g., babies, toys, animals).
Opt for picture books, which allow you to name objects, instead of narrative books. You can usually find a nice selection of these at public libraries.
Make your own book
You can create a picture book for your baby using photos of familiar people or objects, like their dad, grandmother, educator, or family dog. You can also cut out pictures from magazines (e.g., a baby, a cat, a car), paste them on a small piece of cardboard, and describe them to your child.
How to foster your child’s interest in reading
- Read books with your child frequently.
Once they’re able, let your little one choose which book to read. It’s normal for kids this age to want to read the same book over and over. The repetition helps them feel secure, and they understand the story better with each new reading.
- Borrow books regularly from the library. This way, your child always has access to new books and can develop an interest in particular subjects or genres. Keep reading their favourite books to them as often as they want.
- During storytime, sit facing your child or look at them often so they can see your facial expressions and lip movements. They’ll also benefit from watching you articulate words.
- Set up a little reading nook in the living room or in your child’s bedroom to get them excited about reading time. Once your little one is mobile, make sure they can get their books on their own.
- Read for enjoyment. You’ll show your child that books are fun and exciting sources of knowledge. As their role model, you are the ideal person to inspire their love of reading.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children under 2 not have any screen time
, even if the device is used for reading. Once your child is older, you can read them the occasional e-book. However, print books should always be your first choice, as your child can handle and explore them with all five senses.
Things to keep in mind
Reading to your baby makes them feel soothed and happy.
Your baby needs to explore using all their senses, so it’s perfectly normal for them to chew on, throw, and hit their books.
Books promote language development and help your baby learn the sounds of their mother tongue.
They learn words, but also the basics of writing: we write from left to right, the letters on the page have meaning, etc.
Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, Speech-Language Pathologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2018
Sources and references
Ferland, Francine. Raconte-moi une histoire : pourquoi? Laquelle? Comment? Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, Montreal, 2008.
TROUVE-LIVRE. Discovery tool for children’s books for 0 to 5 year olds. trouvelivre.ca (in French)