We all know how important it is to read stories and books to children. But perhaps not everyone knows how important it is to start this activity at an early age.
I know that it may seem silly to read to a newborn child. I also know how difficult it is to prevent an infant from eating the corners of a book or to focus the attention of a 3-year-old toddler. However, even though we might think that they are too young for such activity, reading is a very important stimulus for a baby from the very first months of its life, and it has an important impact not only on the development of language, but also on the development of thought, creativity, and the establishment of relationships with adults and with oneself.
The first three years of a child are among the most important of its life because the infant’s brain has a potential for learning and plasticity that will never be repeated to the same extent through adulthood.
In this article, I will give you some guidelines on the different books suitable for children from 0 to 3 years of age, and some advice on how best to experience this time with your little ones.
The suggestions and timelines I am going to give you are to be meant as indicative of a sequence of steps that each child follows with his own rhythm. In fact, every child has its own developmental path, whose milestones may happen at distinct times during an infant’s life. Be mindful of your child’s uniqueness: listen and observe him well, and do not force his or her own pace. When we offer to read a book to a child, we always need to respect his growth, development, and attention span.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS: the right ones for every age group
FROM BIRTH TO 6 MONTHS
A newborn baby’s eyesight is not yet fully developed, and details are blurred. Therefore, it is important to choose books with regular and clear outlines, such as books in black and white or with strong contrasting colors. Babies explore the world through their mouths, so choose books made of non-toxic materials. Tactile, cloth, soft books, or books made of different materials are perfect at this age. Additionally, choose books that make use of the adult’s voice, and the mother’s in particular: books with nursery rhymes, songs, and lullabies.
TIPS: A child of this age may seem small to understand, but reading helps him to hear your voice, to feel your company, to discover new things through his mouth and new sounds through his ears. Reading time can become a routine that helps him calm down when he is agitated, and also makes him happy in recognizing a moment of sharing. Always respect your child’s time, and when you notice that he starts to get tired: time for a break!
FROM 6 TO 9 MONTHS
As the baby is growing, his eyes become more attentive. Hardback books with large pages and short, simple stories with colorful illustrations are perfect for this age.
TIPS: this is the age when children start exploring books by looking, touching, opening/closing the pages. By 9 months, they may prefer or seem to recognize certain stories or pictures. Second their wishes and preferences.
FROM 9 TO 18 MONTHS
This is the age when language develops, from babbling to the baby’s first words. Choose short, simple stories, even better if they are made up of sentences to be repeated. Above all, pick stories about scenes from everyday life and animals.
TIPS: After 12 months the child may also be able to associate simple names and sounds with the objects they represent, for example, by exclaiming “Moo!” when he sees the picture of a cow. Use the book to help him with learning and pronunciation of the first words and sounds.
FROM 18 TO 24 MONTHS
From this age onwards, you can introduce longer stories with more complex plots.
TIPS: Now that the child has an increasing need to move, look for ways to link this energy to the story, such as asking the child to jump or move like the characters in the book. For children who have started talking, get in the habit of pausing before saying a favorite line or phrase in the story, to see if your child will fill in the gap with the appropriate words. Children at this age begin to have a strong desire for independence: take advantage of this by asking them to turn the pages, for example.
FROM 24 TO 36 MONTHS
At this age, the child is ready for more structured stories. He can tell us which one he prefers, and even ask us to repeat the same story over and over again. He will also become fond of books explaining how the world works. One can introduce the first large picture books that deal with themes closer to the child’s world such as emotions, diversity, fears.
TIPS: From now on, it is also important to use books and albums to create a link between the story and the child’s life. This can be very useful to help him in all those situations that he cannot understand or deal with on his own, such as anger, jealousy, first experiences.
Reading can become a wonderful moment to nurture your relationship with the child, and your child’s relationship with himself. Especially in the evening, reading a story before going to sleep can become a nice habit to create together.