We all have the same picture-perfect image of reading to our tiny friends. We are sitting cuddled up with a beautifully drawn story that’s chalk-full of life lessons and our children are hanging on to every word. But the reality of story time is not always so movie-esque. Perhaps your little one does not like to sit still for a story; maybe he wants to hold the book and only turn the pages; or your child may feel that books are for coloring and/or ripping rather than reading. It’s okay; we can make it better! Here are my tips to help your child love story time.
- Start Small
This first header has a double meaning. First, you can start reading to your baby right away. Initiating story time with your newborn is a great way to get yourself into a reading routine. Additionally, their movement is limited and their focus is only on you! Secondly, start by reading short & simple books. My favorite books to start with are those that have one picture per page (and are preferably touch & feel). Starting with one picture per page allows your baby to focus on one concept at a time. You may open the book and say “dog”, point to the picture, pet the dog’s fur, and elaborate with a “woof”. Your baby will be completely tuned in to the picture, the word dog, and the sound “woof”. It is important to keep your language simple in this stage because we want to match the baby’s level. Using 1-2 words or sounds per page when you start is plenty. This stage is all about teaching.
- Buy Built-Ins
Books with built-in features are your best friends! Look for books that have touch & feel, Velcro patches, felt flaps, moving pieces, pop-ups, or peek-a-boos. These books have done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of engaging your child. Motivation during story time is important because it promotes joint attention, which is necessary for learning. Joint attention occurs when your child is focused on the task (i.e. the book) and you. It is as simple as your baby looking at the book, then looking at you, and then back at the book. Interactive books do a ton of the work in keeping your child engaged in the task. I also love that they are full of directions for kids to follow (e.g. “Find the…”, “Look under the…”, “Put on the…”). They are also wonderful for promoting expressive language. Since your tiny friend will be so very engaged and demonstrating joint attention, it is way more likely that you will hear new sounds and words!
- Get Hands On
We want our little ones to be hands on during book reading. It’s best to ask your child to engage in tasks that they feel confident doing. That is, children are able to identify pictures before they are able to label them. Identification is as simple as touching or pointing to a picture. You can teach this skill by asking the question (e.g. “where is the ball?”) or giving the direction (e.g. “find the ball”) and then gently taking your child’s hand and pointing to the picture together. Even if your little one has 0 words, you can still work on identification! It is easiest to identify an item when you are only presented with 2 options (i.e. a book with 1 picture per page). The more picture options that are present, the harder the task will be. Once your child is consistently able to find objects (i.e. ball, car, apple, cat, etc.) then you can make the task harder by asking him to identify actions. That is, “show me the girl who is eating” or “find the lion running” and so on. Kids love to feel involved in tasks, especially when they are confident in their skills. Remember to start with directions that you are sure your child will be able to follow and slowly build from there.
- Inspire Curiosity
This may seem like an obvious part of book reading, but it is too important to not mention! We often get caught up in the wonder of beautifully written kids books with meaningful messages. We may read right through without stopping to check in with our little ones. But the best way to inspire curiosity is by asking questions. I always ask at least one question per page. Even if it is a simple WH question (e.g. “What happened?”, “Who is that?”, “Where did he go?”, “Why is she mad?”, etc.) Asking questions is the quickest and easiest way to ensure that our little ones are with us and understand the words we are reading. Even if your little one is not able to verbally communicate yet –you can use gestures. Simply change your question into one that can be answered by your child pointing to the answer on the page (e.g. “Where is the truck?”, “Who feels happy?”, “What did he eat?”, etc.)
- Use Tools
- Timers: Timers are great for initiating a book reading routine with a child who does not like to sit still. Most phones have simple timers. It is an easy way to help your little one understand that the task is not forever, just until the timer goes off.
- YouTube: A ton of our favorite stories are on YouTube. Your little one may be more interested in acting out the story at first instead of sitting for a book. You can hold the book and read the story along with the video or act it out together. I don’t suggest allowing your child to watch the story on YouTube by himself. You still want to promote active engagement and together time.
- Double Up: I like to get a second copy of favorite stories for my tiny friends who like to hold and control the book themselves. That way they feel independent and can read along with you.
- Objects: I like to match toys and objects to pictures in books when it is appropriate. Often times our kids do it for us! We will be reading and see a dinosaur that looks a lot like our tiny T-Rex, and suddenly your child runs away to bring the T-Rex into the room and onto the picture. This is wonderful generalization.
- The stronger the better: Bath books and board books are the strongest and they can usually withstand drool and/or ripping hands!
Molly Dresner is a Speech Language Pathologist based in New York City.
She recently authored The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, an engaging parent guide that includes practical and easy-to-follow tips and activities to help you help your little one!