Newborns might not seem to respond when you read, but they’re listening and learning, establishing building blocks for language and cognitive development. And all babies love being held and spoken to, hearing your voice reading rhythmic words and stories. You could read the newspaper to them and they will still be happy, listening to the sound of your voice and your speech patterns.
Babies have distinctive development stages which might help you pinpoint the perfect books to share with them and when.
Don’t forget about the library! Most have boxes of baby books that you can read with them and borrow – plus they have baby sessions, too, that your baby will love (when you can visit them again)!
Babies can detect light and dark, shapes and movement. They can’t focus yet, though that quickly changes. Very soon they will be able to see to 20-30 cm, about as far away as your face when holding your baby. Bold contrast books are ideal, to give your baby something to try and focus on.
• Try Baby Faces a brilliant and bestselling cloth book, with a mirror, crinkly pages, and lots of faces.
One to three months
Your baby’s focus will start to rapidly improve, enough to follow things moving around in front of them. Colours start to become clearer although similar tones, such as reds and oranges, will still be undistinguishable. High contrast books remain a good choice at this stage. Babies can also benefit from tummy time to help develop their muscles and motor skills, and using books at this time gives them something to focus on and enjoy.
• Try Tummy Time, a double-sided book featuring high contrast images on one side to attract your baby’s attention and baby photos on the other, because babies are hard-wired to notice faces.
Four to six months
By four months, depth perception is developed, where your baby can tell how far away things are and will try to start grabbing for things. This includes books and they might grab the pages, the beginnings of page turning. Make sure the books you have are tough and tearproof. Cloth and board books are ideal.
Six to 12 months
A continuing period of rapid development, where your baby’s vision becomes as clear as an adult’s and they can point at items and start ‘demanding’ them. Choose books with simple storylines to follow and bright, uncomplicated pictures to point to and start to recognise.
- Try Hooray for Fish! bright, bold, lots of fun and lovely to share; Baby Look with things to touch and move, encouraging sensory play, and Baby Love, full of tactile flaps and textures.
One to two years
As your baby starts developing into a toddler, there are lots of changes for them to process. Maintaining a constant activity, such as reading and looking at favourite books can provide security in this rapidly developing time. Your little one might have their own favourite books that they request time and again, and this repetition is a sign of learning.
Do introduce new books but if your baby rejects them or doesn’t seem to like them, simply put them away and try again another time. Their vocabulary is expanding quickly so the more you can expose them to new, unusual words, the wider their vocabulary will become.
You might find your baby finishes off sentences, copying phrases from the stories and turning the pages. Books that ‘do’ things are firm favourites, so look for those with moving parts, flaps and sounds – but don’t be too precious about the books as they may well get destroyed.
- Try Noisy Farm with textures and noises or Dear Zoo, a fun-filled story with flaps. Simple storybooks will be a winner too, such as Yawn and Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, both perfect for bedtime.
You will find some of the books you shared with your baby remain favourites as your baby grows into toddlerhood. Remember that whatever you read and share with your baby is valuable in terms of your special bonding time as well as helping with their language and reading skills and encouraging their vocabulary to grow.