Early Literacy: The Benefits of Baby Storytime

The director of parenting resources at Zero to Three weighs in on why reading to babies is so important.

By Patty Onderko



Reading to a baby may feel pointless — after all, how much could he be getting out of Pat the Bunny? Actually, a lot, says Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three. Find out what even the youngest kids gain from storytime.

Scholastic Parents: Is it better to read to my baby or talk to him?

Claire Lerner: Both are great, but one of the biggest benefits of reading together is that you create a positive association with books. When you read to your little one, the warmth of your body and the excitement you convey makes him feel good. It’s a win-win: The two of you bond, and your cutie learns that books are fun.

SP: What if my child seems uninterested?

Lerner: If she’s not fussy, keep reading! One way to engage her is to say, “I wonder what happens next?” and then turn the page and say, “Oh look, it’s a boy playing ball!” Eventually, your kid will get excited, too.

SP: What types of books are best?

Lerner: Choose simple board books with pictures of things your little one frequently encounters, like bottles and faces. They help babies start to associate words like “dog” with their images. That said, you can simply point out objects or colors from any book, magazine, or photo album.

SP: What if you didn't read to your newborn? Is it tough to start later on?

Lerner: Absolutely not. Parents won’t be behind if they start at 5 months or even at 15 months. It will always be the perfect time to introduce books. 

Pumped-Up Reading 
Take storytime to another level by reading interactively, which increases your baby’s understanding of the world and builds vocab. Follow these tips from Jason Boog, author of Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age:

Boost Emotional IQ
Point out and name details on every page: objects, characters, or colors. When possible, make the sounds and dramatize the voices and emotions. For example, if one of the characters is happy, laugh and hug your baby.

Decode Body Language
You’ll be reading to a mostly mute audience for the frst six months, so gauge your baby’s interest by watching for signs. If she wiggles or seems to follow along, keep it up. If she focuses on something else or sounds unhappy, stop.

Bust the Fussies
Introducing touchy-feely books with faps, fabric, or levers provides your older baby with something to physically interact with. Stash a few in the kitchen, the bathroom, the car, and the diaper bag to hand over if she’s bored or grumpy.

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Photo Credit: Roberto Westbrook/Blend Images/Corbis Images

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