By Raising Children Network
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Baby playing with a cloth book

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Your child’s ability to hear, recognise and use sounds in his early years will help him have success later in life when he’s learning to read. 
Reading aloud and sharing stories with your older baby is one of the most important and enjoyable things you can do together. If you’re not sure where or how to start reading, here are some ideas.

Why reading with your older baby is important

Sharing stories, talking and singing every day helps your baby’s development.

You’re getting your baby familiar with sounds, words, language, print and, eventually, the value and joy of books. This all builds your baby’s early literacy skills and helps him go on to read successfully later in life.

Reading stories stimulates your baby’s imagination and helps her learn about the world around her. It’s also a great time for you to bond with your baby and share time together.

You can start reading to your child as early as you like – the earlier the better. Our articles on reading stories with babies and children and developing literacy have more information to get you and your baby started.

Sharing books with your baby

At this age and stage, reading with your baby is all about having fun with books and spending special time together.

Here are some tips to help you and your older baby make the most of reading time:

  • Share a ‘goodnight’ book or family story after dinner or at bedtime every night.
  • Help your child choose the book, and talk to your baby about the way the book looks. Show your child what the book looks like upside down and then the right way up. Let him hold the book and help turn the pages.
  • Read the same book over and over if your child wants you to. This might be a bit boring for you, but your child will enjoy it because she can learn the story and look forward to what’s coming next. You can play around with different character voices or with the storylines.
  • Use the rhythm of the book’s words to bounce your child on your knee, or pat him on his back in time to the rhythm. 
  • Point to the pictures and talk about what you see. Using the pictures to tell a story also gives your baby important early literacy skills. Point to words as you read, or run your finger along under the words.
  • Build on your child’s love for one particular book by offering to read her favourite book as well as a new or different book. 

Here are some general tips for reading with your child:

  • Make a routine, and try to share at least one book every day. The routine could include a special reading space – for example, a chair, lounge or beanbag that’s big and comfortable enough for you and your child, with a box of books or bookshelf nearby.
  • Turn off the TV or radio, and find a quiet space to read so your child can hear your voice and focus on the book.
  • Hold your child close or on your knee while you read, so he can see your face and the book.
  • Point out the different parts of the book and name them, including the spine and front and back covers.
  • Try out funny noises and sounds – play and have fun!
  • Slow down when reading to give your child time to look at the pictures. Involve your child by getting her to talk about the pictures and repeat familiar words or phrases.

What to read with your baby

There are so many books to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start.

As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books that have good rhyme, rhythm and repetition – and this rhyming and repetition helps them learn. Also, your child’s interests will guide you when you’re choosing new books.  Your child learns best when he’s interested in the topic.

Once your baby is about 12 months old, you could start looking for the following kinds of books, which she might especially enjoy:

  • books about food, transport, animals and other babies and toddlers
  • board books, which are easier to handle and very sturdy
  • books that have pictures or illustrations of simple objects
  • lift-the-flap books that have hidden items in each picture for her to find
  • books that include textures such as fabric or collage in the illustrations.

Here are some books your baby might enjoy:

  • Body: My first chunky board book by Dorling Kindersley
  • Choo choo clickety-clack by Margaret Mayo
  • Dear zoo by Rod Campbell
  • Dig dig digging by Margaret Mayo
  • Freight train by Donald Crews
  • I’m hungry by Rod Campbell
  • Spot by Eric Hill – for example, Spot goes on holiday and Spot goes to the farm
  • Toddlerobics animal fun by Zita Newcome
  • Where is the green sheep? by Mem Fox.

Why not  visit your local library? It’s free to join and borrow. The staff there will be able to recommend books for you and baby to enjoy. 

Video Telling stories with children

In this short video, storyteller Anne E. Stewart talks about telling stories with children. She says storytelling promotes literacy and language and gets children ready to start reading. Stories about family and culture also give children a sense of their place in the world. You can use actions and rhymes to get children involved in the story.

For more story ideas, you could check out our storytelling videos. Let storyteller Anne E. Stewart introduce you and your child to ‘Mook Mook the Owl’, ‘The Crocodile’, ‘The Old Lady and The Mosquito’ and ‘How the Years were Named for Animals’.
  • Last updated or reviewed 13-04-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Sonya Nedovic, early childhood educator, Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute.