Reading to Your Kids: Ages and Stages: Babies and Toddlers

[Note: This post is part of a 31 day focus on read-aloud. To see the entire list, go here: 31 Days of Read-Aloud.]

Reading to your kids is good. We’ve established that. But as your kids go through various developmental milestones, read-aloud time has to adapt. Here are some of the ages and stages your kids will experience and their accompanying challenges, and how best to do read-aloud during those times.

Reading Aloud to Babies, Born and Unborn

I always felt like a total doofus talking or reading to my belly, but if that’s your thing, do it. If you felt as I did, maybe you could have Dad read to YOU when you’re pregnant instead? Baby would still hear all those lovely words and sounds that make up language, and would get all the benefits of being read to in utero without everybody feeling all awkward about it.

What benefits? I’m so glad you asked:

Source: Reading Aloud with Infants: The Controversy, the Myth, and a Case Study.

“The results of this case study confirm that parents and caregivers reading aloud to infants is necessary in developing literacy skills that are paramount to book awareness, print awareness, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension, all of which are stepping stones to learning to read and write.”

The good thing about babies is they’re a totally captive audience. Babies love the sound of your voice, and so you can read as much as you like – they can’t run away, and they’re unlikely to protest at all. And it doesn’t really matter what you read, but babies and little kids particularly love things that rhyme, the sing-song quality is pleasing to them. The Read-Aloud Handbook mentions specific studies that suggest that repetition is comforting to babies.

I don’t know of any specific research about this, but my intuition tells me that reading familiar books over and over to a baby and toddler helps them develop trust and self-esteem. Knowing what’s coming next and anticipating that must be awesome for a little one just figuring out language, and the world. It literally helps baby develop. They’re able to “guess” in their primitive baby way the sound or word that’s coming next – and then when you read it, they get that¬† confirmation – that must feel so good to their self-esteem.

Reading Aloud to Toddlers and Preschoolers

The toddler stage, or at least when baby becomes more interested in getting mobile and staying mobile, presents a challenge as far as reading aloud is concerned.

Your baby may simply not be willing to sit in your lap for very long. So, keep the stories brief. Buy board books (I stock up cheaply at thrift stores and yard sales.) for this stage, as grabby baby hands are notorious for tearing pages of books, even when they’re still uncoordinated. Also, teething babies love to chew, and board books can generally take the heat. And the slobber.

Now is the time to begin teaching your little one to treat books gently. If he starts throwing books, tearing them up or writing with them, you may have to remove them from his reach for a day until he gets the idea that he’s not allowed to do that. Ruby is absolutely in love with her books, so this is an effective consequence for her.

If your toddler is still nursing, this is a wonderful time to read to him or her. Although, you may find that your toddler (Victoria is currently doing this) insists on holding the book, which causes a bit of a tug-of-war between you and baby. So think ahead and pick up a really interesting something for baby to hold and play with while you read.

If your tot loves the bath, you can read to him while he’s playing and soaking in the tub. And of course, you can read to your youngster while they play with their toys anytime. Having something to do with their hands may keep them happy while you read. Kids don’t always have to sit still for a story.

Naptime (and everybody’s favorite, bedtime!) is another way to squeeze in read-aloud with a little one who’s always busy and on the go. Some kids love to fall asleep to a story. Others – like my 3 year old – not so much.

This post is getting lengthy, and I still have 25+ days to go in this 31 Days of Read-Aloud, so I’ll stop here. Tomorrow I’ll finish up discussing tips on reading aloud to older kids, even tweens and teens! (Yes – you should still read to your teen!)

Salut, a bientot! 


Yesterday I read to the girls: The Hundred Dresses. This is a wonderful book to open discussion about prejudice and bullying, and the people who observe it without taking action, but also about forgiveness.

Hubby read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to Ruby, and my mom was over for several hours and she read a couple of books, including Kitty’s Colorful Day.



About Carrie

Happy wife, homeschooling mom of many, autodidact, best-selling Amazon author, blogger, head chef and barefoot walker. Residing just outside Atlanta, usually found reading a book while sipping a hot beverage.