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Reading with your baby

You still talk to your baby even though they don’t understand everything you say, right? So why not read with them too? Sharing books with your little one is a wonderful way to:

  • teach your baby about words and communication
  • improve their listening, attention and memory
  • introduce specific vocabulary and concepts
  • stimulate your little one’s imagination
  • teach your child about social and emotional concepts
  • help your child value and enjoy reading

It’s never too early to start reading with your baby – research shows that a baby can recognise its mother’s voice while still in the womb! So reading out loud while you’re pregnant will prime your child to the rhythm and flow of reading. Once your baby is born, having regular reading time creates the perfect opportunity for snuggling and bonding.

What should I read?

Young babies respond more to the rhythm of your voice than the actual words, so choosing books with lots of rhyme will help keep their interest up, as will books with brightly coloured, simple pictures. Books with plenty of repetition will help your child learn and understand the specific words and concepts being introduced. There are some great books from the “Baby’s First” range with nice, clear, simple pictures of everyday items such as milk, blanket, apple etc. These can be great to help your baby learn the names of the things they see all the time. Books of nursery rhymes and simple stories will contain lots of pictures of people and animals doing things, which helps children to learn the words for actions.

How to read with your baby or young child

Reading with a young child, particularly a very active one, might seem like Mission Impossible. Don’t feel like you need to finish the whole book, or even read the words. It’s better to start and look at just a few pages than not look at the book at all. Just talking about the pictures rather than reading the actual words may help to hold your child’s attention. Also, you might have some books with very lovely pictures in them but your child isn’t yet ready for the length and complexity of the writing, so paraphrasing can be useful for these books.

Whatever your child’s age, but particularly for babies, be sure to use lots of facial expression (such as eye widening, smiles, sad face, frown, open mouth for surprise) and intonation (louder voice for loud sounds in the story, whispering for scary parts, slowing down and pausing to build up anticipation, speeding up at exciting bits). Go crazy, be silly, make funny noises and sound effects for the mooing cow, boat chugging along, bus beeping its horn, and dog eating a bone. Re-reading the same books over and over again makes it more likely that your child will join in with your reading. If a book has been read lots of times, you might pause at certain repetitive parts and see if your child can fill in the rest of the sentence.

For older children, keep their interest up and get them thinking by asking questions about the book. Start with “What do you think this book is about?” while looking at the front cover, and encourage them to look at the picture for clues. Ask them about why characters feel a certain way or did a certain thing. BUT, make sure you balance out the questions with comments, otherwise it can start to feel like an interrogation. You can comment by saying things such as “I see a cat hiding in the tree”, “Three ducks!”, or “He’s flying!” If you feel like you’re asking too many questions, try turning your questions into comments. For example, “What’s going to happen next?” becomes “I wonder what will happen next…”; “How does he feel?” could be “I see tears on his face”.

A couple of tips:

  • For very young children, the board books with heavy duty pages are best as they’re more likely to withstand the test of time – and teeth!
  • Soft books made of felt or cloth are great for infants, especially when they have flaps or fold-over sections and crinkly bits to crunch.
  • Waterproof books for bath time are fantastic. Since your child can’t move very far while they’re having a bath, looking at books is an ideal activity.
  • Try to share at least one book together each day.
  • Be sure to turn off the TV / radio and reduce any other background noise.
  • Sit or lie close to your child so they can see your face.


Erin Wilkins is the founder of SmallTalk Speech & Language Therapy. Erin is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist and a member of Speech Pathology Australia. Since gaining her Master of Speech and Language Pathology Erin has gained extensive experience working with children in a variety of settings within Sydney, rural NSW, and in the UK. She is passionate about empowering parents with the skills to support their child in becoming successful communicators.


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