Many thanks to my friend Bethany of Biracial Bookworms for this great post on everything you need to know about reading with children 0-5! Read her full bio below, and be sure to stop by her website for great tips on reading with kids!
If you are like most parents in the world, you may ask yourself and others, “I love to read and believe in reading with my child, but HOW do I get them to sit down and actually listen??” Parents and children everywhere in the world are overstimulated and busy, and at times, reading becomes near impossible with the many distractions and chaos that a normal day brings. If you are a parent of multiple children, I know you are nodding your head emphatically. Here I have compiled a list of everything you need to know for reading with children 0-5 so you can take the guesswork out of reading and cultivate a love of books in a child right from birth. Let’s bring the reading magic into your read aloud sessions!
Reading with Children 0-5: Everything You Need to Know
Book Handling Skills
Starting from birth, you should be pointing out the features of the book every time you read. This is done in only a few seconds to 1 minute depending on the age of your child, but is critical for a child to see how a book “works” in order to connect the written language later on. Try not to labor these points unless your child shows further interest or asks questions. The goal is to introduce these book features in a natural way.
Reading with Children: Babies (0-1)
As a very broad rule, babies enjoy books that have good rhymes, rhythm and repetition. This repetition and rhyming helps children learn.
What to look for when buying/borrowing books for babies:
- books with bright colors
- simple, large and high-contrast pictures (these are interesting and easy for babies to focus on)
- books with different textures (so your baby can hear, see and feel the book)
- books with pictures of babies and faces (they love looking in mirrors)
- soft, waterproof plastic and cloth books that can go in your baby’s mouth, in the bath, etc. (yes, you will ruin a few books at this age)
- use sign language to build vocabulary as well as signal that it is “time to read”
- read aloud in multiple languages to build upon their natural language skills (especially if you have more than one native tongue represented in your family)
Reading with Children: Toddlers (12-18 months)
Just like children less than a year old, this age still enjoys books that have rhyme, rhythm and repetition. However, at this age, your child will start to show interest on various topics. When your child shows excitement when they see a particular topic/genre, allow your child to guide you when you’re choosing new books. Your child will learn a great deal more if they are interested in the topic.
Once your baby is about 12 months old, look for the following types of books:
- books about food, transport, animals and other babies and toddlers
- board books (easier to handle and sturdy enough to handle biting, food, spit up)
- waterproof books
- books that have pictures or illustrations of simple objects (vocabulary is key at this age)
- lift-the-flap books that have hidden items in each picture for her to find (this is the peek-a-boo stage where a child is fascinated to see you appear and reappear so suddenly)
- books that include textures such as fabric or collage in the illustrations (exploring with their hands is key)
- continue adding more sign language, bilingual books, and reading aloud in multiple languages
- follow up the reading sessions with teaching beginning writing skills for babies
Reading with Children: Toddlers (18 months – age 3)
Toddlers will begin to communicate more clearly what kind of books they especially enjoy. Listening to their interests is important, but do not forget to diversify your book collection at this age. I apply the 50/50 rule at this age: Half of the books they get to choose, half are the parent’s choice. You still keep their interests in mind, but ensure a broad range of titles, genres, etc. You also want to use their natural curiosity at this age. Pairing reading and tactile learning about the topics you are reading about is key at this age.
Books to read toddlers enjoy include:
- books with animals and animal noises
- Non- fiction books such as space, musical instruments, how things are made, etc.
- books about playtime that relate to their experiences (building blocks, playing at the playground, having to share, etc.)
- lift-the-flap and pop-up books – (movable pieces in books are a clear winner at this age)
- books that are culturally responsive (don’t miss this guide to books/resources for creating a multicultural and diverse library)
- have a child read his/her favorite books to you
- continue sign language as you point out vocabulary
- read books in multiple languages/bilingual books (use audio books at this point as well)
- follow up the reading session with encouraging art and writing skills
Reading with Children: Preschoolers (Ages 3-5)
The tendency is to continue reading fiction to your kids at this age, but it is key to branch out to non-fiction topics such as space, geology, ocean life, archaeology, food, etc. I have seen many Kindergarten students come to my class, and the ones who wanted to be dentists, archaeologists, chefs, astronauts, etc. were always the children who were reading books often on these topics at home. There is nothing wrong with a 3-year-old wanting to be a superhero or a princess, but if that is all they are reading about in books, they are missing magical opportunities to explore reality.
Books to read to preschool age children:
- alphabet, shape, size and counting books (this doesn’t mean you must start teaching, but it is a non-threatening introduction to these important skills)
- books that tell simple stories, especially ones with rhythm and repetition
- books about families and friends (grandparents, friends that speak a different language, etc.)
- milestone books (losing the first tooth, learning to go to the potty, going to school, etc.)
- books with child characters who are about the same age as your child and characters who are quirky and lovable
- culturally responsive books (engage kids in follow up activities to connect with other geographic regions or cultures)
- books that use humor and have a sense of fun – for example, a character who uses a funny word, or who is silly or even ‘naughty’
- books relating to their particular interests
- bilingual books/books in multiple languages that can be read by the child as well as adults (utilize audio books)
- books that children can read independently (the answer is yes, “memorizing” books IS reading)
- books that teach children reading skills through cooking
- follow up your reading session with teaching children how to reflect on the books they read (as well as cultural experiences) in a journal
You can also use this free PDF chock full of tips for reading aloud with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to put on your fridge or in your book nook. Enjoy reading with your little ones!
What are your favorite tips for reading with children 0-5? Share in the comments below!
Bethany is an elementary educator and reading specialist. She has taught in the U.S. as well as international schools in 5 different countries. Her goal is to encourage family literacy that is multicultural and culturally responsive. Her blog Biracial Bookworms is full of resources to empower and arm families/ teachers with tools to teach global citizenship through reading, traveling, and learning languages! Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!