Story time 101

Discover the most effective ways to read to your baby.


By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

We've talked about why to read to even the youngest infants and what to look for in books for babies—now let's getting reading!

  • Cuddle Up: A lot of what your baby gets from reading comes from being close to you...so get close and comfortable!
  • Love the Book: Infants employ the full range of senses to get to know about life and there is no reason to limit them to sight. Buy sturdy, safe board books and let them play with their books. As I mentioned on another post, a baby who gums her board books may turn into a bookworm of the intellectual variety!
  • Voice Work: Make the book interesting and exciting by using funny voices. One of my favorite books to read to my kids is "Is Your Mama a Llama?" I make the swan British, the bat sound like Count Dracula, and the cow sound Midwestern. Don't worry about sounding silly. When I was reading for a certain marsupial from Australia, I put on what I thought was my best "Crocodile Hunter" impression and read "...that's certainly true / I think that your mother must be..." "Crazy?" finished my husband. "No, sweetie. A kangaroo." But the kids love it.
  • Parentese: Feel free to use cooing sounds, high-pitched tones, and shortened and cute words--you know, baby talk. Parents in every culture instinctively speak with their infants in this attention-grabbing way. (Of course, ditch the baby talk once your child is no longer a baby.)
  • Sound Effects: What I said about voices goes double for using sound effects when reading to babies—animal noises, buzzing planes,  knocking on doors. Don't be embarrassed--no one is watching except for your biggest fans.
  • Make Faces: Exaggerated facial expressions will not only make the story more fun, it will also help your baby learn to read emotions. You, and your face in particular, are your baby's first toy!
  • Sing a Song: My kids love when we make up tunes to go with their stories. And they don't care that I can't sing on key to save my life.
  • Start Anywhere: If your toddler opens the book to the middle, start there. If they flip several pages ahead, no problem. They probably know the story anyway, and reading to a baby is more about the experience than the results.
  • Choice: Let your toddler take age-appropriate control of the whole experience. She can pick the book, choose to read on the couch or on the floor, hold the book or turn the pages--whatever gets her interested in reading.
  • Interact With the Illustrations: Point to the doggy, ask your child what he likes to eat, use the story as a jumping off point for talking with your baby. Soon, your toddler will start mimicking your actions. When he points, tell him about the pictures--he may even point to the same object several times: "That's a doggy. Yes, a doggy. Dogs say, 'Woof woof.' A black and white doggy. Cute puppy doggy!" Your child is learning that each time the picture is still a dog and you are also adding new words and concepts surrounding the idea of "dog" to your child's mental image and vocabulary.
  • Ask Questions: Ask your child about the story.  Even though your baby is not speaking yet, wait for an answer. Model thinking about the story. One day your toddler will surprise you and your monologue will turn into a dialogue.

The number one tip for reading to your child is to enjoy yourselves!  If you show your baby that reading is fun, your kid will become a lifelong learner!