Read to Your Babies and Toddlers! Why, How, and What:

I love to read, and this has been true since I was a child.  I cannot really pinpoint what got me to love reading, but I am pretty sure it was my parents.  When we were kids my parents read to us constantly.  I can remember curling up next to my mom on the couch as she read to us. I can remember taking multiple trips to the library in the summer time.  

When I became a mom, it was important to me to start our kids off on the right track with reading to help them find success in life.  With my oldest, my husband and I started reading to our son in utero.  Did he understand what we were reading?  No, probably not at all. We did that more for him to recognize our voices.  After he was born, we put him to bed every night with books and songs.  We did this even as a newborn.  As he got older, he learned to love books.  I bet we read 30 books a day.   As a stay at home mom, there were days when I did not know what else to do with him, so we read books.

As his speech developed and his vocabulary became more extensive around age two, it got to the point when he could “read” us a book.  He had memorized books that he loved that had been read to him time and time again.  We could read one line and he could tell us the next line.  We were so impressed by that and amazed at what his little mind was capable of! 

When our daughter was born, we tried very hard to do the same with her.  With two children, we just incorporated her into our routine that we already had been doing. We had both kids sitting on the lap of whichever one of us was reading at the time.  That way she could learn to love books and associate books with love.

As she got a little bigger, she became squirmy and would not always sit through an entire book. I got a little discouraged and wondered if she would not like books as her older brother did. That soon changed. Once she was able to sit up and became more mobile, she would sit longer and read with us. There are times that we find her in her room with a book.  This tells me that even though she was not sitting still, she still listened to the books and learned to love them. Now as a 20-month-old, I can honestly say that if I would sit and read to her all day long, she would be as happy as a clam.  

read to babies and toddlers

The Why: Why Should We Read With Babies and Toddlers?

What does the research say about what happens when you read to babies? Infants tune in to the rhythm and cadence of our voices, especially the familiar voices of their parents and caregivers. While initially the rhythmic phrase, “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?”, for example, may not hold meaning, your baby is taking in the sounds of language and how they fit together. As babies see a picture of a red bird in the book and you name the bird, they begin to make the connection between what you say and the picture of the red bird. The more you read that book, the stronger the connection. The repetitive storyline makes the book fun, engaging, and easier to remember.

Reading to babies is not only a way to inspire a love of books, but also an important way to grow a baby’s vocabulary–both their receptive vocabulary (the words they understand) and their expressive vocabulary (the words they are able to speak). 

Research suggests that reading to infants contributes to the development of their growing brains and gives them a good start towards a lifelong love of reading and literature. When you read to babies, it can also help speech development as they are taking in information and beginning to learn about speech patterns. In addition, synapses connect between your infant’s neurons as you read aloud, positively affecting child development in many areas.

The How: Tips for Reading With Babies and Toddlers

How do I read to my baby or toddler?  What are some ways to engage my child when reading?  The literacy organization, Zero to Three (,) offers these suggestions:

A Few Minutes at a Time is OK. Don’t Worry if You Don’t Finish the Story.

Young children can only sit for a few minutes for a story, but as they grow, they will be able to sit longer. Let your child decide how much (or how little) time you spend reading.

Talk or Sing About the Pictures

You do not have to read the words to tell a story. Try “reading” the pictures in a book for your child sometime. When your child is old enough, ask him to read the pictures to you!

Let Children Turn the Pages

Babies cannot yet turn pages on their own, but an 18-month-old will want to give it a try, and a three year-old can certainly do it alone. Remember, it’s okay to skip pages.

Show Children the Cover Page

Explain what the story is about. If you have an older toddler, ask them to guess what the story might be about.

Show Children the Words

Run your finger along the words as you read them, from left to right.    

Make the Story Come Alive

Create voices for the story characters and use your body to tell the story.

Make It Personal

Talk about your own family, pets, or community when you are reading about others in a story.

Ask Questions About the Story, and Let Children Ask Questions Too!

Use the story to have a back-and-forth conversation with your child. Talk about familiar activities and objects you see in the illustrations or read about in the story.

Let Children Tell The Story

Children as young as three years old can memorize a story, and many children love to be creative through storytelling.

Create Books Together

Make photo books of family members. Cut pictures out of magazines or catalogs to make word books. Make a color book by having fun with crayons, markers, and paints. As your child gets older, have him or her dictate a story to you and then draw pictures to go with the words.

Make Books a Part of Your Daily Routine

The more that books are woven into children’s everyday lives, the more likely they will be to see reading as a pleasure and a gift.

The What: Favorite Books for Babies and Toddlers

If you aren’t sure what kinds of books would work well for your little ones, below are a list of some of our favorites.  Give them a try!

“Bear Snores On” by Karma Wilson

 read to babies and toddlers    

This is the story of a bear who sleeps without knowing about the party happening in his cave.  

“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown

read to babies and toddlers

This is a story of saying goodnight to all things in the bedroom.  We like to read this and also search for the specific items they are saying goodnight to on each page.  

“Personal Penguin” by Sandra Boynton

read to babies and toddlers

We absolutely adore the Sandra Boynton books.  They are all super easy and fast reads.  The pictures are cute and funny, and the book length is perfect for little people.   

Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems

These books are geared more toward older toddlers (age 3) and above.  They are absolutely hilarious and incredible.  They all center around two best friends, Piggie and Gerald (the elephant).  These fast reads will definitely keep your attention and make you laugh out loud while reading them.  

“Going On a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

This is the classic book of a family going on a hunt for a bear.  

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

This classic book tells the story of a very hungry caterpillar as he eats way to becoming a butterfly.  

Barnyard Dance” by Sandra Boynton

read to babies and toddlers

This another Sandra Boynton must-read.  We love to laugh at the animals as they dance and swing their partners.

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” 

This is a great book that teaches colors through repetition and poetic language.  We love to speak this out loud and/or sing it.  

“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”  by Iza Trapani

This is the story of a little girl who takes a magic journey with a star in the night sky.  We love to sing this one to the tune of  the song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“Goodnight Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmannread to babies and toddlers

This is the hilarious story of a mischievous gorilla in a zoo.  

“Knuffle Bunny” by Mo Willems

read to babies and toddlers

These are the heart-warming stories of a little girl and her beloved Knuffle Bunny (stuffed bunny).  They will warm your heart, and you will definitely be able to relate to the child’s love and attachment to stuffed animals.  This is geared more towards older toddler (age 3) and above.

Whatever you do, make reading fun for you and your children.  Even if your two-year-old brings you the same book over and over again, read it with enthusiasm.  Teach your children to love books by curling up together and reading.  

Your kids will learn to love reading because they will associate the love in your lap with the love of books.  


Brenda is an Iowa native who has lived in the Iowa City area since 2005. She is married to her love, Robert, since 2012. Brenda is an elementary teacher by trade. She spent almost nine years as a stay at home parent but is now back in the classroom spending time with her school kids and being a mom to her own kids. She is the mom of three; Gabe (April, 2013) Maggie (April, 2015), and Julianna (September, 2017). Brenda enjoys being active by running and working out. She also enjoys trying new recipes, volunteering, playing board and card games, and being involved in church. Brenda is an elementary teacher and loves cheering on the Cubs, UNI Panthers, and the Iowa Hawkeyes. It is a busy but beautiful life!


  1. Love this! ❤️ We have almost all the books you posted about except Knuffle Bunny and the Snoring Bear one. Now I want those….Great article!

    • Steph, I am so glad you enjoyed this post! Thank you so much for your kind words! ! I hope this post gave you some great ideas for strategies and books. I am sure you and your kids will love the “Knuffle Bunny” books. They are available at the Iowa City Library. That is where we first came across them. Happy reading!!! ❤


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