As a new mom, I so desperately wanted to do everything right. Make sure Baby ate and slept well. Make sure she was engaged. Make sure she felt loved.
Since she was a newborn, I followed the advice to read to Baby every day, and made reading part of the bedtime routine. I rotated through her book collection, reading absurd lines such as “Goodnight mush.” and “Three singing pigs say la la la.” I showed her pages and pages of farm animals she had never seen in real life.
I tried to convince myself that I was setting her up for success — even when she stared at me blankly or pushed the book away.
Recently, though, I had an epiphany — you don’t actually have to read to Baby to get the benefits of reading. And since then, reading has been way more enjoyable for myself and Baby!
1. It’s not about the story — it’s about the pictures
Some books have beautiful, heartfelt stories but surprisingly grey and drab illustrations (looking at you, On the Night You Were Born). These books never kept my baby’s interest. News flash: babies are visual, and they could care less about the story at this age.
Choose books with bold, colorful images to keep your baby’s attention – even if the stories are nonsensical. (We go to the library often to pick up new books to read.)
2. Point, point, and point some more
At the 9 month appointment, I told my daughter’s pediatrician that she wasn’t babbling that much. The doc told us to read to her frequently, and said offhand, “It’s not really about the reading at this stage though. Just point to things.”
Wait — what? Mind blown.
Since then, I’ve focused less on the lines in the book, and instead pointed to “familiar” objects (“familiar” as in they show up repeatedly if not in baby’s life, in baby’s books: pigs, sheep, flowers, stars, etc… you know what I’m talking about).
Before I knew it, I moved from saying, “Flower. This is a flower.” to “Where’s the flower?” and waiting for Baby to point herself. Lately, our reading sessions have been less about reading but more about pointing… she loves it!
3. Show her the same object in different books
You know that First 100 Words book on every baby book list? I didn’t get it at first — we’re supposed to read these words, one after the other, to baby as a book? Isn’t that incredibly boring?
After our favorite activity became pointing, I realized that showing her the same object depicted differently in different books helps her learn what they are. When I see a duck in a book, I now pull out First 100 Words and another book or two with a duck and sequentially point to each duck: “Here’s a duck. Here’s another duck. Here’s another duck. Duck.” It’s amazing when you see Baby’s brain connect the dots and understand what you’re trying to teach her.
4. Ask Baby to turn the page
Before we started pointing, we found that asking Baby to turn the page helped engage her more while reading. At first, you can lift the page a little, and bounce it, while saying “Turn the page?” or “Next page.” She’ll eventually get what you want her to do. Now, sometimes Baby will crawl away while we’re reading, but come back when we say “Next page, please.”
5. Lift the flap dramatically
One book that Baby loved early on was a lift the flap book called Woof! Woof! Pop-up Peekaboo! When she was too young to lift the flap on her own, I would tease the flap open gradually, bouncing it, while saying “Peeka Peeka Peeka BOOOO!” She loved the anticipation and the final reveal. She also loved the breeze the flipping of the flap created across her face.
6. Make up your own story
Again, it’s not about the actual lines of the book right now. Ditch the official story and tell whatever story you like to make “reading” more fun for you. As long as Baby is seeing pictures, hearing words, and engaged, your reading time is a success!
Of course, as Baby gets older — and you’ll need to start thinking about teaching her how to “read” herself — you’ll probably want to move towards actual reading. Until that point though, have fun reading without reading 🙂