Why reading to your baby and toddler is so important

I introduced books to both my girls from a very young age, they were a few weeks old. You might wonder what the point is if a baby cannot grasp the words or images yet, but there are so many benefits.

Reading to babies

I introduced books to my girls from around 6 weeks. I chose hardcover thick paged books with large colourful pictures. I would point at the picture and say the word followed by any associated sound or description i.e. point and say “cow, the cow goes Moooooo”; “Crocodile, the crocodile is green”; “Elephant, the elephant has a loooong trunk” etc. Yes they didn’t understand a word I was saying but they heard me speak and they started associating the pictures with the words and sounds. In fact, one of Brooklyn’s first words were “quack quack quack” which she associated with a picture of a duck.

Another great book for babies is touch and feel. This is a great sensory experience which enhances the learning.

In the beginning it may seem strange but you will soon realise the benefits. So what exactly are the benefits of reading to a baby?

1. You get to bond with your baby

By snuggling up together and enjoying the one on one connection while reading a book, you get to bond with your baby. They can feel that the attention is fully on them and it strengthens the bond while creating a nurturing, loving environment.

2. Early brain development

Babies and toddlers’ brains are like sponges – they soak up everything. Your baby not only focuses on the pictures but on your every sound and expression. This teaches them to associate sounds, colours and emotions with pictures which develops their little brains.

3. Language skills

When you read aloud, your baby takes in the sounds and develops language skills from a very young age, before they can even speak. They are exposed to a large variety of words which they may not hear during everyday conversation. This will aid in developing their brains before they start school and lay the much needed foundation for future literacy and learning skills.

4. It establishes a routine

If you make reading a part of your everyday schedule, i.e. before bedtime, it will signal to your baby that after you read, it will be time to sleep.

Reading to toddlers

The older your baby gets, the more they will start interacting while you read. They may want to choose which books to read and may want to stay on a certain page or go back to another page… let them. They are learning and the fact that they show interest is great.

Before Brooklyn turned 2, I introduced her to fairy tale books, no longer just pictures with sounds. She started grasping a story line. In the beginning I didn’t stick to the words of the book, I would recite the story in a much easier understandable language and after a few times of reading it like that I would stick to the words to give more detail. From around 2 and a half Brooklyn could page through a book she is familiar with and explain exactly what happens i.e. in Little Red Riding Hood, she would page through and explain that the girl is taking food to granny and the big bad wolf dresses in granny’s clothes. She would explain how granny hides under the bed and how a man comes to save them and chase the wolf away.

My go to books for toddlers of this age would definitely be easy to understand stories with descriptive pictures. Some books have more words than pictures and I found that these are harder to grasp at this age. I loved the Ladybird Picture Books range which pretty much tells the story by looking at the pictures. They are colourful and Brooklyn absolutely loves these books.

My husband would often act out scenes of the book i.e. the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk by walking and saying “Fee Fi Fo Fum, watch out everyone, here I COME” in a deep voice. Brooklyn loves this and it makes the reading experience even more interactive, in fact at 9 months old, Blake is laughing as well and enjoys the experience so I will start introducing these books to her a bit sooner.

It is important to bring the stories to life – use different voices, expressions and actions. This keeps it fun and maintains the interest.

The lift and flap books are great from around 2 and a half. Before this Brooklyn would be tempted to pull of the flaps and break the books, where now she pages through and lifts the flaps carefully.

Reading provides toddlers with the ongoing benefits I listed above. It noticeably expands their vocabularies and enhances concentration skills. It feeds creativity and encourages thinking outside the box. It teaches life lessons and cause and effect. It builds the foundation for future learning, social skills, communication and and language skills.

Reading stories to toddlers can teach them to deal with difficult emotions, particularly when a story focuses on a relevant topic i.e. moving to a new area. It encourages open communication which aids in helping toddlers identify and deal with big emotions.

Below are some of my girls’ favourite books:

Our favoutite books for babies:

  1. The Noisy Book – by Soledad Bravi, Gecko Press

I bought this book while on holiday in New Zealand. It is filled with large pictures and their associated sounds. Blake loves this book and Brooklyn can tell you every single sound in this book, which is not limited to animals. It includes some everyday sounds and some unfamiliar sounds as well.

The Noisy Book
The Noisy Book

I have not seen this book for sale in South African stores but it is available online from Book Depository.

2. First Animals – by Fisher-Price

This book has large colourful foiled pictures of animals which exaggerate the main features. Little eyes take these in and Blake is generally captivated by this one. You can see from the worn look of this book that the girls couldn’t get enough of it. I bought this some time ago from Readers Warehouse when Brooklyn was still a baby.

3. First Words by Dawn Machell and Jane Horne, Make Believe Ideas

I love how this book categorises the pictures on separate pages by theme. I usually focus on one theme at a time and introduce the girls to the different words. Even though I am using this book for Blake already, Brooklyn still loves pointing out the different animals and objects and would often page through this one.

My First Words – this page focuses on the farm theme

4. Things that Go – by Shannon Hays and Vicky Harvey, Make Believe Ideas

This book is a nice rubber effect touch and feel book. Every page has a picture with a rubber effect to feel. Blake loves running her fingers over the pictures – it is a great sensory experience. I recently bought this book from Exclusive Books.

5. Words and Pictures – by Ladybird Books

This book is amazing – it can be introduced at baby stage but is great for toddlers as well. Brooklyn still loves this book. Each set of pages focuses on a different scene or place and then names the objects in that particular space i.e. the kitchen, the garden, the bathroom, the zoo. Again, I usually stick to one scene or place at a time.

Words and Pictures – this page focuses on items in the bathroom

Our favourite books for toddlers

In addition to the 2 books above – My First Words and Words and Pictures which are amazing for toddlers as well, below are our favourite reads for toddlers:

  1. The Ladybird Picture Books

These classic fairy tales are captivating. Brooklyn loves the fear reaction when we speak about the big bad wolf or the big giant. She will recite these stories by just looking at the pictures which are so well illustrated to explain each part of the story. I purchased all of these from Readers Warehouse.

2. First Stories by Campbell Books

These books have push, pull and slide features to make the story interactive. Brooklyn has Snow White and Cinderella but there are others available as well. The stories are short and to the point so I used this quite early on. Both of these were purchased from Readers Warehouse.

3. Finding Nemo – by Parragon Books

By being able to relate the book to a movie she has watched, Brooklyn loves paging through this book to explain what happens. I explain the scenes in more detail and she takes in the images more carefully while expanding her vocabulary at the same time.

4. Knock Knock! Open the Door – by Michaela Morgan and David Walker, Macmillan Children’s Books

As I suggested above, it is best to introduce the flap books from around 2 and a half years to ensure your child does not rip out the flaps. Brooklyn loves this book, she physically knocks on the doors and says “knock knock, who is there?” and then acts all surprised at the guest. This makes reading and learning a fun experience.

5. Lettice – The Birthday Party – by Mandy Stanley, HarperCollins Children’s Books

This book is about problem solving and is in a bit more detail. The illustrations are cute and captivating and Brooklyn is now at an age where she understands more. The fact that the book focuses on solving a problem assists in this developmental area of problem-solving.

6. My First Words

My First Words – this page focuses on opposites

As mentioned above, the My First Words book and Words and Pictures book are also great for toddlers. Above is a page from the My First Words book which is more suited for toddlers. The book caters for small babies to pre-schoolers and primary schoolers.

I hope you are encouraged to introduce a reading routine in your home, it is never too late to start.