On Reading: The Youngest Children, Pre-birth to Two

I have been blessed with a 16-month-old who loves books. Here are some of the techniques we have used as a family to enrich his life with reading.

It’s never too early to start

As early as the second trimester, your child can begin to hear your voice from the womb. At this stage, reading is more about the baby bonding with your voice, so rhythmic poetry and picture books are good choices, but don’t be afraid to read what you like. My husband isn’t a huge book reader himself, but one of his favorite poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” While I was pregnant, he would snuggle up to my belly and read this dark tale. It was a wonderful family bonding experience. The first night in the hospital, my husband was talking and my son’s tiny head followed his daddy’s voice across the room.

Incorporate reading into the daily routine

Take those everyday activities and make reading a part of it. When my son was very young, I would read to him during tummy time and while he nursed. Sometimes I would skip the picture books and just read from whatever novel I was trying to finish. Just hearing your voice is soothing to baby at this age.

Once my son started getting more mobile, my husband or I would sit in the glider and read to him while he played on the floor. We also began to read short books to him at naptime and bedtime. Now he reaches for “Goodnight Moon” or Sandra Boynton’s “The Going to Bed Book” once the lights are low and it’s time for bed.

Let your baby take the lead

At some point, your baby will go from merely listening to being interested in the books themselves. This is a big step, but it can sometimes be a tough transition for mom and dad. I found it’s best not to force the reading experience to be a the way I want it to be, but to let my son dictate how we enjoy books.

When he 6 months old, he loved those crinkle books. We would sometimes read them, but mostly he wanted to squish them and hear the crinkle noise. A plastic bath book became his favorite chew toy when he first started teething. My husband and I both memorized the book, so we’d just recite the words while my son gnawed away. Then when my son starting scooting, the days when he would just lay or sit on the floor and listen to my husband read “The Lorax” in its entirety became scarce. My husband would be five pages in and my son would be out of the room and on his way to a new venture. Even when my son would crawl into my lap with a book, instead of turning each page as I read it, he would speed flip through the book, skipping entire chucks of pages at a time. We let him enjoy the book the way he wants to.

Books aren’t just for reading

Don’t be afraid to treat a book as a toy. We have an entire shelf of board books that my son is pretty much allowed to play with as he sees fit. Sometimes that means he just pulls every book off the shelf and plays. We also spend a lot of time just looking at pictures. He points to something (for the millionth time) and I tell him what it is. Or I ask him to point to the horse in the picture. He may point to the horse, or the pig, or not nothing at all. The important thing is the interaction between him and the books. Even with all the playing we do, just the other day, my son crawled into my lap and I read book after book to him for over half an hour.

These particular techniques have worked great for my family, and I hope some of them may work for yours as well, but they may not. And that’s okay too. For me, the most important part of reading is spending time with my son.

What have you done with you own children to encourage them to be lifelong readers? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

 Guest contributor Katie L. Carroll is an author, editor, and mother. Her YA fantasy ELIXIR BOUND is available on the MuseItUp bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other ebook retailers. Her picture book THE BEDTIME KNIGHT, illustrated by Erika Baird, is available from MeeGenius. To learn more about Katie and her writing and mothering adventures visit her website at www.katielcarroll.com.


  1. says

    When my oldest was 20 months old, my twins were born. Keeping him occupied while nursing them was a challenge. Since I had all his books memorized anyway, I used to have him sit at my feet and I’d recite whatever words were on the page and in that way I kept everyone happy for a little bit at least! Now he’s 17 and they’re 15 and they all enjoy reading.
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