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A friend recently asked me, “how do I read to a baby?” and it really got me thinking. I read aloud to school-age children every day, and occasionally to preschoolers. But its been years since I took Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny to the hospital with me when I went into labor with my oldest child. Like my friend, you may have learned about the benefits of reading aloud to your child, and be fired up to get started. Use the tips below to help make the most of this experience.
Choose the Right Books
The best books for newborn babies have rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Your baby loves to hear your familiar voice, and books that rhyme, follow a rhythm, or repeat phrases and words are soothing to your little one. Mother Goose nursery rhymes are always a good choice. For older babies, add books that feature daily routines such as eating, playing or sleeping. Find books that illustrate concepts such as inside, outside, under, after, or next. Your older baby will love books with colorful photos or pictures of everyday objects. Board books are wonderful because they are tough to tear and can take some chewing.
Make it Comfortable and Cozy
Cuddling up to read aloud is cozy and relaxing for both you and your baby. Pick a time when your baby is fed, changed, and rested. You may want to offer your baby a toy to hold and chew while listening to you read. Find a comfortable place to sit, use a soft voice, and don’t go too fast. Make this experience as gentle, soothing and relaxing as possible. The goal is for your baby to associate reading and books with comfort and pleasure. If your baby fusses, stop and try again later.
Keep it Short and Simple
At the beginning, read for short periods of 2-3 minutes, several times during the day. These short periods of time will get longer and longer as your baby’s attention span develops. Read the same books over and over again so that they become very familiar to your baby. This enhances language development, helps build reading into a routine, and lets your baby start to anticipate the experience.
Watch for signs that your baby is responding – you may notice them quiet down, start to focus on bright pictures, or wiggle their arms and legs. Older babies will make noises to try to “join in.” Respond to these noises as if you are having a real conversation about the book with your baby! The benefits of reading aloud are priceless, and its never too early or too late to make it a treasured part of your baby’s childhood.