My son was born in August in Texas, which basically meant the heat made it impossible for me to take him outside. When my husband went back to work after his paternity leave I realized I had no idea what to do alone, indoors, with a newborn all day. Aside from the seemingly endless feedings and diaper changes, what do you do with a tiny human who can’t hold his own head up and starts screaming and sweating when you leave the cool, air conditioned apartment?
Those early days of motherhood were so overwhelming and isolating, and I knew I needed a plan – a better plan than watching the Great British Baking Show all day while walking laps around my tiny apartment (because my son refused to be put down) and contemplating why my stomach hadn’t magically returned to it’s flat, pre-baby state yet.
I gave up on the flat stomach conundrum, but I did figure out a productive activity to do with my cuddly little guy: reading. It felt so weird at first to read to a teeny baby. Could he even see the pages, I wondered? Over time, however, it started to feel more comfortable, way more comfortable than just talking to him about random things to hear the sound of my own voice. I love books, and it felt empowering to be able to share something I love so much with him, even though he was so little.
I obviously don’t need to convince you that it’s important to read to your child. You probably already do! I do want to share a few ways I approached reading with an infant, the types of books I’ve found are engaging for toddlers, and how to fully take advantage of the amazing free resource we all have access to – the library.
Introducing books to infants
It can feel awkward to read to newborns, but just go for it! The book itself doesn’t even matter very much; it’s the closeness and the calming sound of your voice that your baby will respond to. If you do want to read a book that’s particularly good for new babies, I’ve included below links to some that my son and I enjoyed.
High contrast black and white books are great for infants since their sense of sight is still developing.
Babies also love to put things in their mouths, so I loved these “Indestructible books” that can get wet and chewed on without falling apart. My son’s attention span was pretty short when he was under six months, so I appreciated the fact that these books have minimal or no text, so the story can be as long or as short as you make it. As he got a bit older, he could practice turning the pages on his own, and I never worried about them ripping. We also took these books when we’d travel, because they are very thin and light. Can’t recommend these highly enough!
As babies begin to develop better eyesight, books with bright colors and large images are visually stimulating. We have almost all of Jane Foster’s books, which have been read over and over again at our house. We also discovered “Goodnight Bear“ and “Hello Lamb“ at the library, which feature bright colors and animals, two things that are always a hit with babies.
Taking it to the next level with toddlers
Now that my son is 15 months old, he can sit and read for longer periods of time. He has favorite books that he likes to read repeatedly, and gravitates towards books that are interactive. If you also have an older baby or a toddler who is always on the move, reading is a great way to build in breaks so that your little one doesn’t get overstimulated.
Books with flaps, like the “Spot“ and “Can You Say It, Too?“ series, are a great go- to books for older babies and toddlers. The “Touch and Explore” series is very interactive because it combines flaps and different textures little ones can touch.
We have read as many “Bizzy Bear” books as we can get our hands on at the library, because they feature fun slides and tabs to practice fine motor skills like pushing and pulling. “Follow the Trail” books are another way to practice fine motor skills, like hand-eye coordination, and to introduce shapes and matching.
My son is really into singing these days, so combining songs and books is a win-win! We found this count and sing book at the library, and have been reading it constantly. The entire “Sing Along With Me!“ series is awesome because it combines cute animals, songs, and tabs/pulls for added interaction.
The power of the library
We moved to San Francisco last February, right during the record breaking rain storms. Moving to a new city with a six month old is a whole ‘nother story, but, suffice it to say, we spent a lot of time indoors last winter. We went to all the library branches we could walk or bus to, to explore what each of them had to offer, and checked out tons of books. I learned that some library branches have more baby-friendly books than others. If yours doesn’t have many on the shelf, you can request them online (I do this a lot now since my son is now at an age where he likes to pull all the books off the shelves when we go to the library). Also, it’s worth it to get your child their own library card. Kids don’t get late fees like adults do, in case a book gets lost under the couch or you just can’t make it to the library to return your books on time.
We go to the library regularly, on average twice a week, so we have a steady stream of new books to explore. On average we check out ten books every time we go. Right now we have 22 library books in our apartment. That might sound like a crazy amount, but I always get more books than I think we’ll need because sometimes it’s hard to know which books will be favorites and which will be quickly tossed aside. My son asks to read books all day long, and if we only had 5 books to choose from it would get so boring!
Final tips for building a reading life
Reading has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have so many memories of my parents reading to me and taking me to the library, and I knew I wanted to pass on that same love for books when I had my own baby.
My final tips for sharing books with infants and toddlers:
- Keep books down low so that babies and toddlers can access them independently.
- Try to incorporate reading into different parts of your daily routine, not just bedtime.
- Choose as many different types of books as you can: some interactive, some bedtime stories, some with human characters, some about animals, some with silly sounds, some nonfiction, etc.
If you have any reading strategies you’ve used with your own babies I’d love to hear them! I’m also always on the hunt for great new books so please share your favorites!