Tip # 1: Just do it
The first thing to do is – literally – just sit down and do it. As cheesy as it sounds it is literally never too early. If you’re the baby’s mom, you can even start while you are pregnant. (Talking to your baby is just as good.)
You don’t need any special equipment – just a comfortable chair or bed, a well-loved book and your attention. For the first six months you don’t even need an “age-appropriate” baby book. Just pick up something that interests you – a book, a magazine, your doctoral thesis – and read.
Once you’re both comfortable, ignore that feeling of feeling ridiculous and hold your baby close. Breathe. Open your book and read.
Tip # 2: Make it part of your routine
Remember that the magical benefits of reading to your baby occur as a result of hours of repetition over years. Doing it once won’t help, trying to do it every day will. As my life seems to work on a “just in time” management basis, the only way I can be sure to build it into the day is to literally schedule story times.
It’s up to you when you do it. It could be first thing in the morning, after lunch and/or bedtime (which could help with settling baby into a sleep routine as an added bonus). As a working mom I found taking a few minutes to cuddle my baby in bed and then reading a short story did wonders. It helped me set aside the never-ending “to-do” list that kept running through my brain and gave me a few moments of calm.
I had to leave the day-time story times to my wonderful carer, but she was amazing about making sure that she read at least one story every day.
A bed time story is a wonderful way to draw a line under the day and clear the way for sleep. Whenever you do it, just make sure that your baby is dry and fed and (during the day) not sleepy. Nothing ruins your sense of well-being faster than the crankiness factor!
Lastly mix it up a bit.
As much as I am a routine fan (to manage myself, not necessarily my kids), there will be odd moments that you can turn into story times. Keep a book or two in your handbag for those waiting around times in doctor’s rooms or in queues.
It could just turn a crotchety baby into an engaged and calm one.
Tip # 3: Make it a pleasure…for both of you
This is not a chore, this should be fun for both of you. Focus on interacting with your baby – point to features in the pictures and ask questions. Maintain some physical closeness. Sit baby on your lap or next to you so that you can cuddle. Don’t rush it. Don’t panic when the book goes into their mouths – that is part of how babies explore.
If you haven’t read to your baby before, the first few sessions may fray your nerves. But give it time and consistency and Baby will start to respond, even if just by wriggling in the beginning. This makes it easier.
Tip # 4: Let baby participate
If you are new to reading to babies, it may not have occurred to you that this is a team sport. No really. While a new-born infant is not going to do much except love the feeling of your touch and the sound of your voice, this changes quite quickly as they grow.
Interestingly the benefits of reading to your baby multiply as more senses than hearing are included. So encourage your baby to touch the book, scrunch it (if it is cloth and built for that) and babble back words to you. As the parent reflect back what she is interested in. Point to pictures and ask questions.
And don’t restrict your baby’s interaction with books to story time only. Keep books around the house and make them accessible.
Tip # 5: Focus on the book, not on baby’s behavior
There will be times when your baby doesn’t co-operate in creating the ultimate fantasy story time of the two of you cuddling together and absorbed in a book and each other. She might wriggle or want to crawl or run around. She might keep pulling at the book’s pages because she doesn’t want to read this page, but only the first page. She might want to play with a rattle rather than read. You get the picture.
Please remember that you are dealing with a naturally short attention span. In young babies a book reading session is unlikely to last more than two minutes. Be patient, knowing that you may not get through a full book. Even when you think it is just a very short five pages.
If your baby snatches the book and moves it so that you can’t see the text, continue “reading” any way. Make up the story if you have to or can’t remember it. She will settle once she reaches a certain level of maturity, probably between eighteen months and two. Persevere.
You might also find that Baby’s story time is being disrupted by an older sibling interrupting. This could be fueled by something as simple as jealousy. If you can, include them both. See if you can sit so that there is physical contact with both of them.
Tip # 6: Reflect back
Your Baby will love interacting with you and the book, rather than just passively listening. As the reader, reflect back what she is interested in. Point to the pictures and pick out aspects that fascinate her. This will help her understand that the pictures (often) represent real things – like a lion or tiger or teddy bear.
You can step up the interaction a notch by acting out the story with different words and actions. And wait for the day when baby will babble back at you as she tries to tell you the story.
Tip # 7: Don’t sweat the repetition
Your baby may well selectively choose just one or two stories that she wants to read over and over and over… (you get the picture).
Let her rather than trying to steer her to other content. In the big scheme of things her fixation will be short-lived – and what’s wrong with being able to recite Eric Carlson’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” from start to finish without pausing for breath? (It might even turn out to be quite a useful skill – like when trying to keep your baby entertained at a social function.)
That is not to say that you shouldn’t try and expose her to as wide a selection of age appropriate books as you can. Perhaps join a library to help reduce the shock to your wallet and show your baby that there is a community of book lovers out there.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful. More importantly, I hope this is the beginning of a reading adventure for you and your baby and that you have many wonderful hours of reading together ahead of you.
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