Q: I’ve heard that it’s important to read to babies. But my son is just a few months old and can’t possibly understand the story. What should I do?
A: Even though your baby may not yet understand the actual words you read, he can—and will—respond to the rhythms and patterns of your voice. Reading is a comforting ritual that helps strengthen your bond with your baby—but don’t worry if it doesn’t feel “natural” right away. Think of it as a great excuse to snuggle close! When choosing books for a baby, look for books with a strong, rhythmic or rhyming text and simple bright illustrations. There’s plenty of time to read longer, story-based books later on.
Q: My daughter is really cranky and worn out by the end of the day, which makes reading bedtime stories a chore for both of us. What am I doing wrong?
A: For some families, reading is a great way to unwind after a busy day. For other families, reading is an ideal way to start the day, or it’s a blissful after-lunch interlude. The point is, be sure to incorporate reading into your family’s life, based on what works for you and your children. If everyone’s crabby before bedtime and reading doesn’t work for you then, don’t worry about it—just concentrate on creating a reading routine during the day that is positive and enjoyable for everyone. And remember, family dynamics change—you might find in three months that a good-night story is the perfect way to end the day.
Q: My son knows all his letters and the sounds they make. Could he be ready to read?
A: How exciting! It sounds as if your son is on his way to becoming a reader. The best thing you can do for him is to continue to read, read, read with him—and to him—without pushing too hard. Understanding phonics (the connection between letters and the sounds they make) is a critical component of learning to read, but it isn’t the only important factor. Expose your child to a variety of books and focus on the enjoyment reading brings. Studies show that children who enjoy being read to are more likely to enjoy learning to read.
Q: I have a toddler and a preschooler. How can I make the same story interesting to both of them?
A: The trick to reading to children of different ages is creating an interactive reading experience in which everyone can get involved. While your older child will be interested in the story itself, you may need to stop and point out images in the artwork to hold your younger child’s attention. Try to engage your older child to help the younger one by saying something like, “Jack, show Katie where the bunny is hiding.” In addition, use lots of emotion and act out the story to make it more fun for everyone and don’t require that everyone sit still for the entire story.
Q: My toddler won’t sit still when I try to read to him. How can I get him to pay attention?
A: Let’s face it, toddlers are constantly on the move—and that won’t change simply because you’ve decided it’s time to read. We all imagine the angelic child, nestled next to us, attentively listening to us read. But the truth is, establishing a reading routine takes time. The best way to get (and keep) your child interested in reading is not to expect too much too soon—your child’s attention span may last only a few minutes a day at first.
Here are few tried and true tips for reading with toddlers: Sit on the floor (not on a couch), and let your toddler bustle around you around while you read aloud. Pick a few key books and read them in different places throughout the day, such as while your toddler is in the high chair, in the bathtub, and in the grocery check-out line. Most of all, have fun. Soon enough, your toddler will be bringing books to you and begging you to read.
Q: My daughter wants to read the same book over and over. How can I encourage her to try something new?
A: Young children find comfort in repetition so it’s not surprising that your daughter asks for the same book over and over again. Each time she hears her favorite story, she is building connections between the letters, shapes, sounds, words, and pictures that will eventually lead to reading. While there are major learning benefits to indulging her book choices, adding a little variety to the mix might be good for both of you.
One idea for broadening the field is to agree in advance that you will read two books together and that you each get to choose one of them. If you have time, take turns selecting two more books to read together. Before you know it, you will have an armful of new books in your regular reading pile. Another idea is to simply sit down in a comfy spot and start reading one of your favorite children’s books out loud and with great enthusiasm! Dr. Seuss™ books are a perfect choice for this because your daughter will hear how much fun you are having with the rhymes and wacky words in the stories. She will likely sidle up next to you to see what has you so amused and engaged. After all, who can resist the silly antics of The Cat in the Hat?
Look at me! / Look at me! / Look at me now! / It is fun to have fun / But you have to know how.
Julie Temple Stan, Editorial Director at Early Moments
As a graduate of Boston College with a degree in English and minor in Special Education, Julie began her career as a researcher for the children’s television show Sesame Street. There, she helped develop and evaluate the show’s comprehensive curriculum. From there, Julie followed her passion for early literacy into a career in children’s publishing. Now, after more than a decade, she has created a dozen original book clubs, selling millions of copies worldwide—all of which are designed to enhance and promote a lifetime love of reading and learning.
Among other awards, her book clubs have won the iParenting Media Award, the Teacher’s Choice Award for the Family, and the Adding Wisdom—Parent To Parent—Award.
Julie and her husband have two young children. In her spare time, Julie enjoys directing a children’s singing group and helping to coach her daughter’s soccer team.