Updated: May 19, 2020
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So I’ve been extolling the virtues of reading to babies from birth and creating reading routines. Some of you are thinking… yeah, obviously, we should be reading to children. That was me, too. At least, I thought it was that simple, but I’ve experienced firsthand the difference it makes when you start early. But what if you start late? Well, I have experience with that, too. And I have good news: It’s never too late.
How to Raise a Reader: The Easy Way
My firstborn was notorious for taking 45-minute naps (despite my best attempts at sleep training). Shorter naps meant more frequent naps. So we read. And we read. We read before each nap. We read to fill the time between naps (when he should have been sleeping). And of course, we read before bedtime. I knew each book in my nursery by heart and could have read them with my eyes closed, except I would have fallen asleep.
So without even really meaning to, I succeeded in creating a very solid reading routine. My son was accustomed to sitting in my lap and reading from about the time he was six weeks old (I know because we moved out of state when he was five weeks old and all our books were already in the new house). By four months old, he would patiently sit through three books at a time. Even when he reached the age where babies usually start to get very mobile (around six months) and don’t like to sit still because they have milestones to meet, he would still settle down for story time.
At 2.5 years old, he is an avid “reader” in that he reads books to himself by the light of his cloud lamp in bed in the morning, brings me books and asks me to read them to him throughout the day and (of course) pleads for one more book at bedtime. So I’m feeling pretty good about where I am with him right now in pursuit of my goal of raising a reader.
How to Raise a Reader: The Not-So-Easy Way
On the other hand, when my second son came along, I think it was a full six months before the newborn fog lifted and it actually dawned on me that I was not reading to him like I had to his brother. I had made some feeble attempts, but with two under two, I was just too tired or too busy, I guess.
When I did start to make a conscious effort to include reading as a regular part of our daily routine, it definitely did not come as easily as it had with my first child. Instead of trying to fill the time, I had to try to find the time. Also, my youngest wasn’t really interested in reading books, and who could blame him? By that point he was too busy trying to sit or crawl or explore the world to stare at an inanimate object when I held it in front of him. I started to worry that his academic future was in jeopardy or that his language skills would suffer if I did not do something - quick!
So I determined that I would find a way to course correct. Setting that intention was part of the inspiration for this blog. I picked up a copy of How to Raise a Reader and realized I wanted to inspire other moms to instill a love of reading from an early age. In many ways it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because I was starting to talk about how to raise a reader, I was even more motivated to practice what I preached. I am proud (and relieved) to say that at nine months old, my youngest has become much more engaged with books and I have been successful in creating a reading routine, but it really wouldn’t have happened if I had not been intentional. For that reason, I say it’s never too late to start, but it’s soooo much easier to start early.
How to Raise a Reader: A Starting Point
Before we continue, let me just dispel any mommy guilt that might be trying to creep in and say that I'm not suggesting that reading to your child at six months is really "late." Starting from birth (or in the womb, as some do) is great but in truth any amount of reading that is done prior to children entering kindergarten can be counted toward building early literacy skills. All I'm saying is the sooner you start creating a reading routine, the more natural it will be continue for both of you.
When it came to starting to make reading routine, there were a few things I found that helped me:
Finding books that held his interest.
My youngest was very resistant to reading the same books I had read to my oldest when he was a newborn, the sweet rhyming ones with pretty pastel pages. He was, however, very interested in other babies’ faces. At six months old, he would pretty much only tolerate two books: The Sad, Mad, Glad Baby and Go to Sleep Baby Boy. But he LOVED them. He would talk to the babies and pat their faces and squeal with delight. So that is what we read, over and over. By seven months I was able to engage him with interactive books where he could manipulate the flaps but his attention span was still short. By eight months he had started to develop some stamina and I could read one or two short interactive books. Now nine months, I am working on introducing vocabulary. We will read a favorite interactive book or two, then I will slide in a book of animals and make the noises which he seems to enjoy. But I promise you, the first time I read it he didn’t last two pages before he wanted to get out of my lap. Tonight, we almost finished the book. I’m very careful to stop when he’s done so as not to turn him off of reading altogether, but I’m also encouraged at the progress we’ve made over the past few months.
I literally had to stop myself sometimes from just doing the next thing and think “oh, I’m supposed to read to him now.”
Finding opportunities to work reading into our daily routine.
Those first few months with two children under the age of two are kind of a blur, but in retrospect we were all adjusting to being a family of four, so I’m not surprised that reading to a baby took a backseat. It wasn’t until my oldest started Mother’s Morning Out two days/week that I really had one-on-one time with my baby. I made a point of using this time to make sure I was reading to him. I identified opportunities before I put him down for a nap, after he nursed and while I was feeding him in the high chair, in addition to bedtime. But I literally had to stop myself sometimes from just doing the next thing and think “oh, I’m supposed to read to him.” It took a few weeks but we succeeded in creating a reading routine. Once that was established, I was able to spend a few extra minutes with the baby while the toddler was home by implementing room time, where he played in his room under my watchful supervision via the baby monitor. (If you have two small children in the house, you need this, and they need it too.) I really had no choice because the baby was becoming too distracted by the toddler to nurse. It took several weeks, but now my oldest will actually ask to play in his room, something he never used to do.
Setting an Intention
I think most of us know we want to instill a love of reading in our children, we just need to be reminded to seize those moments. When you make it a priority to read with your child, to spend that time sharing a book with them, they will feel like a priority.
"Each time you read to him, your toddler is experiencing the connection between books and the familiar, beloved sound of your voice - that physical closeness reading together brings. You're continuing to build a deeply positive association with books that will last a lifetime." - How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo
Based on my experience, I believe it’s never too late to start, it just might be a little more challenging. For a toddler this might mean that they might not stay in your lap very long. That’s okay; just keep reading aloud and maybe they will come over to peek at the pictures from time to time. For school age children it might mean finding a book that piques their interest so that they actually want to read it, or listening to an audiobook together in the car.
Here are some tips on establishing your own reading routine when reading to baby:
I frequently post reading inspirational quotes and excerpts from the experts on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Please follow me to be encouraged to instill a love a reading from an early age and invite another mom to come along.
See also: What Makes a Good Children's Book?