Here’s When To Start Reading To Your Baby (Spoiler: NOW!)

Many new parents assume they’ll start a night-time routine that includes reading a story from day one… then, reality hits.

Most newborns can’t sit through even a short story without squirming, crying or falling asleep, but that phase actually doesn’t last too long. In fact, during the first month or so many parents report that their little one starts to focus on touch-and-feel type soft books, especially those with black and white pictures and patterns.

Remember, newborns don’t see the color spectrum the way we do nor do they see as far as we do. Up until about three to six months, babies can only see between 12 to 15 inches in front of them and can only really see in black, white and grey tones. That’s why books like this (one I used and loved personally), work amazingly well to kick off a life long love for reading.

Give your child a few months and they’ll start to turn the pages! With mine that happened around 2.5 months of “reading” soft books and harder ones with touch-and-feel components like this one, another personal favorite.

Also note that you don’t have to do reading time before bed and while reading together is great, it doesn’t always have to be an activity you do together. You can prop a book in your stroller, for example, and allow your baby to “read” when he’s practicing tummy time.

For more insight, I spoke with Cecily Kaiser, the publishing director at RISE x Penguin Workshop, to chat all things reading to babies.

Momtastic: When should parents start having story time with their child?

Cecily Kaiser: Now! Every child at every age will benefit from being read to. It’s not only the experience of seeing, hearing, and touching a book, but also, the intimacy of reading together with a loved one. Newborns absorb the rhythmic sound of a parent’s voice reading aloud; older babies begin to interact with the book itself, reaching to touch, and learning about page-turning. Toddlers will participate in the page-turning and start to engage with the book’s content itself, and preschoolers on up will begin to “read” to themselves or to you, following the model you provide! It’s also important to say that older kids, especially those who are literate and often read alone, still enjoy and benefit from being read to.

Momtastic: Specially, can you highlight some of the benefits to starting to read to children early? 

Cecily Kaiser: So many wonderful things happen when you read to young children. They build vocabulary, by hearing new words in context; they acquire pre-literacy skills, by connecting what they hear to the letter forms they see on the page; and they begin to understand the way a book works (reading the pages from left to right, reading all the words on page before turning the page, and going from beginning to middle to end). The content of the book itself may introduce new ideas or encourage imagination or ignite curiosity. And perhaps most importantly, they begin to internalize the importance of reading. They learn that it’s something you prioritize and always make time for. Those early positive associations with reading books together informs their interest in reading and books for the rest of their lives!

Momtastic: What are things parents should look for? 

Cecily Kaiser: The most important thing about choosing a book to read with your child is that it be something your child finds appealing. Every child is different, so there is no formula for the right book for all kids. Some babies respond excitedly to high-contrast images (like black and white); others are more drawn to shiny textures (like foil). Some toddlers like books about animals; others latch on to books about food.  Some young kids love carefully manipulating flaps and pull-tabs while others prefer flipping through longer books with lots of pages and different images. Some kids prefer to read in the bath – and there are bath books for that purpose! If your kid loves dinosaurs, start there. If your kid wants nothing but glitter, find the sparkliest book you can. If your kid is scared of storms, there are books about that. Finding a book that your child can relate and attach to is the place to start. And once the love affair has begun, you can surround your child with books that you feel are important to expose your child to, whether they be classics from your childhood or newer books that hinge on empathy, kindness, or activism.

Momtastic: Can you single out some books that you recommend for newborns? 

Cecily Kaiser: As we discussed above, newborns are primarily benefitting from hearing the voice of a loved one as they read aloud (which sounds different in cadence and word choice than if that person were simply speaking). That said, you can truly read anything you love to a newborn: poetry, picture books, even the newspaper. But as that baby grows, you’ll want to have books on hand that the baby can see, touch, and connect to.

Here are some of my favorites for these youngest readers:

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