Reading to babies: a beginner’s guide
Sara Keating runs the baby Book Club in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown libraries. Here she offers advice on how to pass on to children a love of reading
Peepo by Alan and Janet Ahlberg: recommended reading for toddlers aged 18 months and over
In 2014, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown launched an initiative called Babies Love Books to promote the importance of reading to young children. Reaching out through local health centres, it invites parents to bring their infants to any one of the eight branch libraries. The initiative aims to encourage young families to join and use their local library, and it also gives the baby a book to keep, a token and symbol of future literacy. Recent research has provided biological evidence to support empirical studies about the relationship between reading aloud to babies and brain development in the first three years of life.
This autumn, the libraries in the catchment area are redoubling their efforts to promote reading in early years with the Baby Book Club, for babies and toddlers between the ages of 0-3, which I have been facilitating in local branches. The structure is simple and centred around a classic picture book (The Hungry Caterpillar, Owl Babies, One Ted Falls Out of Bed). The story is followed by a few theme-related songs, and a short, simple craft, which reinforces themes and vocabulary from the stories. The session finishes with a complementary story that children and parents may not have come across before, encouraging associations between books and providing inspiration for new reading material. Sessions last about 30 minutes, and there is plenty of time for discussion and book recommendations afterwards.
Here are some of the tips I share with parents for reading aloud to babies.
Babies first experience books with their fingers (and mouths!)
Board books and cloth books make it easy for baby to turn the pages, while bath books are a good option for babies who can’t be persuaded not to chew.
Look for books with clear illustrations, bold colours or real life pictures.
Books with noises, textures, and mirrors all encourage interaction.
Animal books are a surefire hit and provide plenty of opportunity to make your own noises,
Read every day and often.
Recommended for 0-18 months
- Nina Laden, Peek-a-Who
- Usborne, That’s Not My....series
- Mem Fox, Ten Little Fingers
- Helen Oxenbury, Clap Hands/ All Fall Down/Night Night/ Tickle
- Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear/ The Hungry Caterpillar
- Rod Campbell, Dear Zoo
Choose books with simple, rhythmic language.
Toddlers love repetition and familiarity.
Lift-the-flap books add extra mileage.
Older babies (from 18 months) love slow reading, busy books and finding “hidden” objects on the page.
Don’t be afraid to improvise: if the story is too sophisticated, invent your own based upon the pictures.
Recommended for 18 months+
- Julia Donaldson, One Ted Falls Out of Bed
- Chris Haughton, A Bit Lost
- Charles Fuge, I Know a Rhino
- Martin Waddell, Owl Babies
- Stephen Tucker/Nick Sharratt, Jack and the Beanstalk/Cinderella/Goldilocks
- Usborne, Farmyard Tales series (spot the duck and rabbit as you turn the page).
- Richard Scarry, Busytown series
- Alan And Janet Ahlberg, Peepo
Sara Keating is an arts journalist. She blogs about books, theatre, music and art for children at kidscultureireland.com and is running Baby Book Club at libraries throughout Dún Laoghaire Rathdown this autumn.