My favorite reading group happens at our local library. A group of more than 20 parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, and uncles accompany about 20 babies and toddlers. Many babies bring two caring adults. A few adults coax two or three children into the room.
When you walk into the room, there is a circle outlined by pyramids of three identical books. Babies, toddlers, and adults find their spots. Familiar faces greet each other as we wait for the librarian, Jane, to enter.
The first activity is to sing a hello song to every baby in the circle. Not to the group, but to each child by name. It often takes 10 minutes to complete. The community is established, as each child in the circle is welcomed. Everyone belongs to the group.
The order is simple: song, book, song, book, song, book, song, and play. When it’s time to read a book, each adult reads the book to his child. The group sings a song together, and the adult reads the second book. Repeat. After a final song, a bin of infant and toddler toys appear.
What this group gets right is that a love for reading and learning grows out of love felt from caring adults. Think of reading as a tool for building your secure relationship with the child. The positive feelings are transferred to the child with warmth, curiosity, and attention to reading. A love for learning blossoms and the child experiences what it means to be a learner.
Reading with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is sort of like playing the piano. If you were just learning to play the piano, you would start with a few keys before moving on to chords, site reading, composing, etc. The same is true for building reading skills. Here are a few skill-building tips by age group:
With very young babies, we can engage in the full experience. We read as maestros, allowing the babies to hear the fullness of the written word.
With young babies, read books or articles aloud that interest you. In an early childhood setting, pick longer storybooks. Reading a story aloud has the added advantage of the other children in the room hearing the story as they play or eat.
It is okay if the baby or toddler doesn’t understand the meaning of all of the words. The sounds you make while reading are directly reaching the neurons in the language center in the child's brain.
As babies become more engaged in their learning, reading simplifies.
Board books offer simple language in short bursts of engagement.
To make it easy, place a basket of books next to the rocker, next to the high chair, and in the play area. Any time you are wondering what to do, grab a book and read.
Reading sessions are often quick, lasting as long as the child's attention.
Expect a lot of variation in engagement with books from day-to-day as well as morning to afternoon. Sometimes a toddler will want to read a couple of books, other times she won't make it through the first few pages.
Be flexible. Toddlers lose and gain interest quickly. It is okay not to finish a book; she can always come back and finish reading later.
When the child picks up the book look at the orientation. Watch to see if he notices the book is upside down. Wait to see if he corrects it. If not, say, "Let's try it this way." If the child protests, let the toddler read the book upside down; remember we are introducing concepts that have a lot of time to take hold.
Active engagement: Choosing books, turning pages, deciding on a new book, and even stacking books count as engagement.
Enjoyment! Reading is always fun.
Point out the front cover of the book. Ask the child what she thinks the book is about or to retell a part of a familiar story.
Encourage the child to notice pictures or words on each page.
Reading can happen with or without a book. Repeat favorite storylines. Freestyle by making up stories or creating storylines together.
Reading books is a great way to boost the quality of language and the number of words and expressions young children hear. Studies show that children who hear more than 1000- 2000 words per hour are also at an advantage, being more likely to have a higher IQ, be early talkers, and perform better in school.
Skill building tips for caregivers
Use books that include descriptive language and new vocabulary words or books written in a second language.
Don’t feel silly talking to a baby, toddler, or three-year-old— describe and read everything in books, at the grocery store, or while following a recipe! You’re helping build the child’s love of reading and learning!