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10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Babies for Brain  Development

Looking to boost your baby's cognitive development? These tips for reading aloud to babies is a great way to promote language and literacy skills early.
10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Babies for Brain  Development 
Updated: September 8, 2023
Fact checked by  Jessica Mangelson, Ph.D.
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Experts agree that parents who read regularly to their babies and young children will see benefits in language development, cognitive development, brain development, and emotional development. 

Early reading experiences also allow for bonding and attachment opportunities, create a love of literacy, and build a sense of imagination in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics echoes these ideas suggesting that a regular habit of reading with babies and young children stimulates development, supports the parent-child bond, and helps build language skills, as well as social/emotional skills at a critical time in children's lives. 

The benefits of reading and early literacy experiences are numerous; the earlier you start reading to your child, the better! 

As you work to make reading to your baby or young child a daily habit, consider including the following reading tips to keep the read-aloud time engaging and fun.

Related: The Best Books for Babies and Toddlers


10 Tips For Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers 

1. Make Reading Time a Habit

Beginning a daily literacy habit with your baby or young child is easy. You don’t need a formal program, a specific set of books, or deep knowledge surrounding early literacy skills or your baby’s development to get started.

The best way to build a habit is to make a goal to read for about 15 minutes every day. For babies or very young children, you may need to break up your reading time into 2-3 short sessions or according to your child’s attention span to make the time more manageable. Having a daily routine of reading books in place early in life sets the stage to maximize benefits for your child.

One effective approach to cultivating a love for reading is to engage in shared reading activities and gradually increase the frequency of literacy experiences until it becomes a habit. Incorporating a read aloud or story time into your bedtime routine can also be particularly beneficial, as it allows for connection and relaxation while fostering a positive relationship with reading.

2. Choose Appropriate Read-Aloud Books  

Tips For Reading Aloud to Babies
Image Source: Getty Images

A great way to enhance your child's reading experience is to explore the selection of children's books available at your local library. Many picture books are designed for babies and toddlers, with bright colors and durable materials, such as board books, that allow children to play and handle them without causing damage. 

Some books even offer interactive features, including different textures to touch and feel or moving parts that can add to the excitement and engagement of reading. Keeping a variety of picture books on hand will ensure that the reading experience remains fresh and engaging. 

While new books are always fun, don't be surprised if your child wants to revisit their favorite books and stories. Encourage your child to help choose which books to read, try including those that reflect their interests and experiences, such as books about their favorite animals or activities.

3. Remove Screen Time and Distractions

During story time, ensure that the TV is turned off and your phone is on silent. This will allow you and your child to fully concentrate on the story without any interruptions. By dedicating a specific time for reading, you communicate to your child how significant it is to you. 

Providing undivided attention to your child during story time will make it a cherished moment for them. To create a calm and soothing environment, choose a comfortable and quiet place to read.

4. Make Faces When Reading and Encourage Participation 

Reading time should be fun! By promoting interaction when reading picture books, kids can more fully participate in the reading process, even if they can't read yet. As they point at pictures and ask questions, they become part of the reading experience. 

This engagement will build language skills and keep them focused and engaged. Encourage your little one to point at pictures as you identify the objects in the children’s book and use facial expressions to convey the story's mood.

5. Bring The Story To Life

Reading to a child can be made more entertaining and engaging by incorporating different voices, intonation, or rhyming. To keep the child's attention, try whispering or keeping a beat when there is a rhythm in the story. You can also encourage the child to sing along a familiar line or clap as you read. 

These techniques not only make the story fun but also help the child develop language skills such as fluency. Remember to be playful and enjoy the experience with your child. Your enthusiasm and effort will be rewarded through positive experiences with reading.

6. Make Reading a Sensory and Interactive Experience 

If reading with different voices doesn't suit your style, don't worry! Instead, try to read with enthusiasm. Hold your baby's hand, make eye contact, and encourage them to point at different aspects of the illustrations. Cuddle up with your child, discuss what's funny or sad in the story, and make facial expressions that match the emotions in the children’s book. 

These simple gestures can help create great comprehension in your baby’s mind of the meaning of the story and improve comprehension. They also strengthen the parent-child bond through shared experiences. 

Researchers at KidsHealth suggest, “Perhaps the most important reason to read aloud is that it makes a connection between the things your baby loves the most — your voice and closeness to you — and books.”

7. Use Props To Make The Story Engaging

In the children’s classic, “The Mitten” by Jan Brett, a little boy loses his white mitten in the snow, and while he plays, several animals from the forest squeeze into the mitten to find warmth. This is one of my children’s favorite books. 

I made paper puppets of each of the animals that squeezed into the mitten and tucked them inside the book's cover. Whenever I read this book to my children, they follow along by holding up the puppet of the animal that is making its way into the mitten, which makes the story more interactive. These hands-on materials encourage children to be more attentive and involved in the story-telling process.

8. Attend a Children’s Story Time or Read Aloud Event

Children’s Story Time
Image Source: Getty Images

Consider visiting your local library to participate in story time or enroll in summer literacy programs to enhance your child's reading experience. Librarians usually offer helpful suggestions and resources for parents as part of their reading outreach. 

They may introduce you and your child to new authors, activities, and children’s books that can capture your interest in different ways. Additionally, you can connect with other parents and caregivers who share similar literacy goals.

9. Make Real Connections to What You Read 

During a read-aloud, taking a moment to pause and reflect on the story while emphasizing important messages and themes can effectively demonstrate comprehension and critical thinking skills

For instance, while reading the story of the three little pigs, I may express my thoughts aloud, "I wouldn't build a house with sticks, I don’t think it would be strong enough to last very long, especially if it got windy! I wonder if the pig is worried about his house falling over." Alternatively, I may relate the story to a personal experience and say, "This story reminds me of the time I built a playhouse with my Grandpa. It was the first time I used a drill and I had so much fun." 

This modeling technique can particularly benefit young children as they learn to make connections and comprehend information.

10. Ask Your Baby/Toddler Questions

When reading with your child, try prompting them to share their opinions in a way that's suitable for their age. Encourage them to express whether they enjoyed the book and if they'd like to read it again. 

Ask which picture caught their attention or if they agreed with the actions of a character. Adjust your questioning based on your child's age and cognitive abilities to stimulate their thinking and involvement in the narrative. 

By asking thought-provoking questions, you can improve their comprehension and extend their attention span or focus during story time.

Long-Term Benefits Of Reading Aloud to Babies And Young Children

Reading aloud to your young child is not only a great way to develop their language and vocabulary, but it also helps to enhance their problem-solving, creativity, communication, and reasoning skills. 

Furthermore, research shows that reading to babies and young children in their early years has positive effects on their brain development and emotional development and strengthens the parent-child bond. 

To make this important experience enjoyable and beneficial for both you and your child, try out the reading tips mentioned above. Together, you can cultivate a love for literacy and pave the way for a strong foundation in early literacy skills that will benefit your child in the future.

Sources +

High, P. C., Klass, P., Donoghue, E., Glassy, D., DelConte, B., Earls, M., Lieser, D., McFadden, T., Mendelsohn, A., Scholer, S., Schulte, E. E., Takagishi, J., Vanderbilt, D., & Williams, P. G. (2014, August 1). Literacy promotion: An essential component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice. American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lewis, K. N. (Ed.). (2019, August 19). Reading books to babies (for parents) - nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth.

Mendelsohn, A. L., & Klass, P. (2018, October 1). Early Language Exposure and Middle School Language and IQ: Implications for Primary Prevention.

Sinclair EM; McCleery EJ; Koepsell L; Zuckerman KE; Stevenson EB; (n.d.). Shared reading practices and early literacy promotion in the first year of life. Journal of Developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP.

Jessica Mangelson, Ph.D.

About Jessica

Jessica received her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from The Ohio State University. She has… Read more

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