Although babies interact with books differently than do older children, even very young babies like books and engage with them in remarkable ways. Judith Schickedanz, Professor of Education at Boston University has compiled some suggestions for parents and caregivers. Suggestions for Reading to the Baby:
Birth to 3 Months
At this early stage, a book must be something interesting for a baby to look at. The ideal book suggested is the one that has simple and large pictures or designs against a contrasting background. Stiff cardboard books that can stand up, are a good choice.
An infant at this age could be placed prone on the floor for short periods while awake, a book can be opened wide and placed at a comfortable viewing distance.
4 to 6 Months
Cloth and vinyl books are a good choice for this period because they are light weight and compress when babies' hands grasp them. In addition, cloth and vinyl books do not disintegrate when they become wet. They are bound to get wet when a baby will put a book in his/her mouth several times. Another advantage is that these type of books can be washed.
Now that the baby can hold his/her head up, caregiver's hands are free to hold both the baby and a book.
7 to 9 Months
During this period, babies begin to manipulate a book to look at its pages. Crushing, ripping, and the like begin around 8 months of age. Thus a special type of cardboard book, known as a board or block book is fairly indestructible and easy for infants to handle. During this stage, cloth and vinyl books are not appropriate as they are so soft, that infants find it difficult to wedge a finger between the pages.
"Reading" a book to a baby at this age consists of labeling the pictures.
9 to 12 Months
At this time, the book's contents, rather than its physical characteristics begin to capture a baby's attention. They now begin to recognize, understand and relate objects and events in the world. Books with pictures of familiar actions and objects are the ones, babies usually like best. Cardboard books continue to be easy for children to manipulate because their pages turn easily. They must be selected carefully with respect to the content.
The language format used when sharing a book with a child this age often follows a four-part sequence:
- Get the baby's attention. For example, say "Look" or "Oh, look at that!"
- Ask the baby a labeling question. For example, ask "What's that?" or "What does that do?"
- Wait for a baby to respond or if necessary provide the answer yourself.
- Provide feedback. Typically say something like "yes" and then give the answer in a well-articulated form.
12 to 18 Months
During this age, children enjoy books with pictures of familiar characters (animals, little children like themselves, adults in familiar roles), objects and events. Theme books, the most suitable to read to a child this age, contain a series of related pages with pictures and a few words.
At this age, children still like pictures in books to be named. They will repeat what adult says, although their articulation of words will not be very accurate. Now they may be willing to listen to quite a lot of descriptive talk about the objects and events pictured in the books.
Very young children differ greatly in all aspects of behavior, book behavior is no exception. Some babies may site quietly in a lap while being read to, other babies may struggle down from laps. How a particular baby interacts with a particular book at a particular time, depends on the baby's style of interacting with the world in general, on the baby's past book-playing and book-reading experiences, on the characteristics of the book at hand and on the general level of development.