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Reading to Babies
9/30/2019 2:37:00 PM by: Becky Cerling Powers


All the experts tell parents, “If you want your children to become good readers, you should read to them often.”

“But, what if my toddlers won’t sit still when I try to read to them?”  some parents ask. “What if they lose interest and wander off before I finish the story? Or before I turn the page?”

Read-less reading

That’s where read-less reading comes in. Introducing children to the joys of reading actually begins with first enjoying books without reading the words.

The process is simple. You talk your way through the book. First you label and describe the pictures. Then you begin telling the story in your own words and pointing out details in the pictures.

Moving into “real” reading

As your children’s vocabulary and attention span develop, you ask questions and let them tell you about the pictures. At the same time you move gently into “real” reading—you read bits and pieces of the text until your children become ready to listen to whole stories just the way they are written. From there, you gradually move along to stories with fewer pictures.

Eventually, a grade-school child trained by this process will happily sit still for a half hour or more to hear a rousing good children’s classic without pictures.

Read-less reading is an easy skill to pick up. You just need to know your child and then think up things he or she will like. The possibilities are as endless as the differences in children’s personalities and interests. Here are a few ideas to try:

Labeling pictures and imitating sounds

In general, babies and toddlers like simple pictures of people and anything that makes noise. They like their “stories” with action and sound effects.

At this age, wordless picture books are the best place to begin, for parents as much as children. (Since there is no text, you have to learn to make up your own words.) Also, because a baby or toddler’s attention span is brief, you usually point out only one thing about a picture.

Example: “There’s the baby. Let’s kiss the baby. (Kiss picture, turn page) Here’s the clown. The clown has two funny shoes. (Tap each shoe) One, two. (Next page) Here’s a cow. The cow says MOOO. (Turn page.)”

Expanding vocabulary

As a child’s vocabulary increases, you can begin asking questions about parts of the picture, like “Where’s the doggie’s tail?”

Preschoolers, whose vocabularies are exploding, often delight in learning specialized terminology. A favorite book for many preschoolers is Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. Each page illustrates and labels many items in categories—types of boats, kinds of work machines, different animals at the zoo.

You can flip through the pages and teach children correct terms for the subjects that most interest them. (You don’t have to look at every page of a book any more than you have to read every word on a page.)

Repeating words, ideas, story lines

Children find security in routine—repeated activities, familiar pictures, stories that remain the same. They learn vocabulary, speech patterns, counting, thinking skills and many other things through repetition.

Playing silly games

Sometimes when parents get tired of reading the same old story many times, they can try reading the familiar words wrong, as a joke. Then their children correct them, and the reading time turns into a silly game:

“Well, let’s see, the name of this story is ‘Little Brown Pear Loses His Toes.’”

“No, no, Daddy! (giggle, giggle) It’s ‘Little Brown Bear Loses His Clothes.’”

Playing question games

Parents can also encourage their children to observe closely through question games, like “How Many?”—a game for children who are learning to count. “How many dogs in this picture? How many balloons? How many cars?”

“Where is it?” is another good game. “I see a mouse in this picture. Where is it?”

Question games are not intended to be tests, but a way to praise children and build their sense of accomplishment: “Good for you! You found the mouse.”

“What if...” is an imagination stretcher: (Looking at a zoo scene) “What if we could get one of these animals for a pet, for Daddy’s birthday present? Which would you pick? Why would Daddy like the elephant? Where would we keep it? What would we feed it?”

Just having fun

It’s fun to turn these games around, too, and let children ask parents the questions.

Read-less reading is more than just a way to keep children interested in books and lengthen their attention span. It builds thinking skills, and it develops observation skills children will need in order to learn how to read themselves later on.

Most of all, it’s fun.

© Becky Cerling Powers 1995


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