INFANTS

Storytelling is a natural part of caregiver-baby dialogues. When you return babies' first coos with smiles and murmurs, and respond with admiration to their earnest babbling intonations, they develop a deep conviction that language interactions are both delightful and meaningful.

Turn-Taking Talk

During daily routines, tell each baby the story of what you are doing - how you are diapering him, preparing her food, getting ready for nap, setting up a mobile to kick at. Explain in warm and conversational tones that you are getting everyone dressed for an outdoor adventure in the group stroller. And as you kiss each dimpled finger, express your delight and pleasure.

"Self-talk" narratives help babies make sense of the rhythms and routines of their environment. Your descriptions - of what is happening and what they will be doing next - help babies learn space and time words and also make sense of the day's activity sequences.

Never Too Young for Books

Babies can become passionate book lovers by their first birthday. Indeed, some five-month-- olds need a story in order to settle into a nap! The secret is to read daily, but not read exactly what the book says. Instead, focus your language so that you're able to make picture books precious for each little one. Cuddle as you point to each large, colorful picture. Change your voice tones to capture, and keep, baby's interest.

Baby-Friendly Choices

Babies chew on books, so be careful not to use ones with easily torn paper pages or plastic spiral bindings that teething babies could crack. Look for sturdy cardboard, washable cloth, or plastic books. One large color picture per page works best.

You can also make books yourself. Try cutting out photographs children might recognize and pictures of things they are interested in, such as a puppy munching dog food, a baby swinging, a blanket and crib, a toddler with a shovel and sand pail, a plate of yummy spaghetti. Place each picture in a plastic sleeve and punch three holes so you can string the pages.

Have Fun!

As you read together, point out special features in each picture - a baby's eyes, nose, hair, toes. Label simple actions or feelings: "See, the baby is run, run, running!" "Look, the baby is smiling at the bunny." By nine months to one year, many babies will point with their second finger and even label pictures themselves as they share their pleasure in the book. A nine-month-old might triumphantly shout, "Doggie!" - pleased at his victorious identification of this picture for you!

Watch Baby's Eyes

Follow each infant's eyes as he or she becomes excited by, or curious about, a horse, a goldfish, a tree full of apples. Point to and label what babies look at and show interest in. You'll learn about your babies as you pick up their cues. For instance, the lemon pictured on a page just didn't seem as interesting as that picture of a cat curled in a basket or a toddler rolling a ball.

Telling personal stories and sharing picture books promote a special closeness between you and your infants. Talking about the pictures as you look at them together boosts the budding language skills of the babies you care for.

TODDLERS

"Picture book talking" and story reading encourage toddlers to tune in to the delights of books and become confirmed storytime lovers -- especially when they also receive the precious gift of your personalized attention.

Make Reading a Cozy Time

Storybook reading can help highly active or overexcited toddlers calm down as they listen intently to your voice. Use soft tones and snuggle toddlers on your lap or close to you.

Choose Stories With Interesting Themes

Encourage families to bring in photo books of their toddlers so you can "read" these personal storybooks together. When toddlers are tired, stressed, or cranky, take out their special family photo albums to help soothe spirits. You'll find that toddlers feel proud and competent pointing to Grandpa or a family pet or telling you about a photo of the zoo visit when Papa lifted the little one up to pat a friendly animal.

Though many toddlers have short attention spans, some can listen to a longer story if the subject interests them. Choose themes that mirror some of the struggles they are having, such as sharing toys or learning to use a potty. The Max books and Pippo books are favorites with such themes. Toddlers also generally love stories about baby animals and will enthusiastically make animal sounds, such as "moo moo" or "arf arf," as you read about barnyard creatures.

Rhymes, Rhythms, and Repetition

Look for books with repeated rhymes or rhythmic sayings. The phrase "Grandpa will fix it" comes up over and over in the book Something From Nothing. Mother Cat's words "This and that" repeat throughout the book of that same name. Toddlers love learning these phrases and rhymes. Sometimes they'll even memorize the words to "read" with you, especially after repeated readings.

Action!

An old favorite, Pat the Bunn, offers toddlers textures to feel. Where's Baby Bear? leads young children on a search - into a large watering can, a mailbox, under a lampshade giving them chances to move part of the page aside to see where baby bear could be hiding. With your fingers firmly but unobtrusively in control, invite toddlers to help you turn the pages and gently carry out sequences of actions.

"What Do You Think?"

Reading stories to toddlers gives you an opportunity to sharpen their thinking skills. Questions that call for yes or no answers or special labels give toddlers the satisfaction of showing off their knowledge: "Do you think the doggie feels happy with his bone?" "What do you think that is?" Open-ended and choice questions, such as "What do you think the baby bird is going to do now?" stimulate reasoning skills.

When you tell stories and read books with toddlers, you give them the gifts of restfulness, intimate togetherness, and a feeling of enchantment that they will treasure for years to come.