Build love of reading by introducing books early

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Last year, the Marion Public Library introduced a new story time for its very youngest patrons: babies.

“We’ve had people come in and say, ‘I didn’t know we should be reading to kids that young — they can’t understand yet,’” says Olivia Stoner, children’s services coordinator at the Marion Public Library. “A lot of people may not think about reading to a baby. But even if they’re just going to play with the pages, they’re still taking in that experience and enjoying it.”

And creating a positive association with books is no small thing.

“It builds a love of reading from an early age,” Stoner says.

Story times for babies are short, quick-paced, and interactive. Marion library’s “Baby Time” is aimed at children ages birth to 18 months, and incorporates books, songs and rhymes, sign language, and “a lot of bounces and tickles.”

The Iowa City Public Library also offers a similar, very popular program called “Book Babies.”

“We’re building a foundation of language and reading and fun and exploration,” says Karen Gordon, children’s services assistant at the Iowa City library. “I can’t tell you how many times I have parents come back to the library and say, ‘my baby loves books,’” and that’s great because they’re setting their children up for learning their whole life.”

Gordon and Stoner recommend that parents, grandparents, and other caregivers aim to read with their babies every day — even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. Make it a fun, positive experience, they say. Never force books upon tots, and remember that they have short attention spans, they add. Infants also may want to interact with the book differently than adults do, and that’s OK.

“Look at the pictures, talk about what you see — even if your baby isn’t talking yet, just let him babble and interact with you to make it an enjoyable experience,” Stoner says. “I think sometimes people focus on ‘we have to get through this book,’ but the important thing is just to snuggle up and have an enjoyable time together.”

When selecting books for a baby, look for:

  • Simple pictures with bold color or lots of contrast
  • A story that incorporates rhythm and rhyme
  • Interactive elements like texture or flaps
  • A sturdy book — like a board book — that won’t easily be torn and has pages that are easy for small hands to turn
  • Books that introduce concepts like shapes, counting, the alphabet, colors or animal sounds

A few of Stoner and Gordon’s favorite books for infants include:

  • “Bark, George!” by Jules Feiffer
  • “Barnyard Banter” by Denise Fleming
  • “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr.
  • “Dear Zoo,” by Rod Campbell
  • “Freight Train” by Donald Crews
  • “From Head to Toe” by Eric Carle
  • “Jump!” by Scott M. Fischer
  • “Orange Pear Apple Pear” by Emily Gravett
  • “Machines at Work” by Byron Barton
  • “The More We Get Together” by Caroline Church
  • “Where is Baby’s Belly Button” by Karen Katz
  • “Where’s Spot” by Eric Hill
  • “Anything” by Sandra Boynton

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