Foster a love of reading in your little one with our pick of the best books for babies, 1, 2 and 3-year-olds
Baby got books? It will probably be a few years until you need to start worrying about initial, middle and final phonemes but it’s never too early to start fostering a love of reading. The best way to do that is to read with your child. Even very young babies will enjoy the sound of a story or rhyme read aloud in a soothing voice, and toddlers will love identifying favourite characters and joining in with the ends of sentences in familiar texts.
If you’d like to introduce books to your routine but aren’t sure which are most suitable, books from your own childhood are a good place to start; anything you remember fondly from the past is likely to go down well in the present. Several of our choices below are time-tested classics for exactly this reason, and we’ve also included some newer titles you may not yet know. Each of them will help babies and young children as they begin exploring the world through image and language.
How to choose the best books for baby
How many words?
Books for babies and very young children are mostly picture-based, with just a few words per page (and just a few pages per book). Your baby’s first books will probably contain words identifying key, simple concepts – such as animal names or colours. Over many repetitions, these tiny tomes will help your baby associate the sounds of the words with the images, which is the beginning of language acquisition.
What’s it made of?
With very young children, your choice of book material may be more important than the subject matter or language used; delicate paper pages aren’t suitable for babies who are still developing fine motricity. So, look for sturdy board books that can’t be easily torn or chewed up (although we can pretty much guarantee they will be lightly nibbled); fabric books; or waterproof books you can safely take into the bath. Books with added sounds and textures will stimulate your baby’s senses and begin the process of associating words and concepts.
Toddlers will be able to turn paper pages more safely, but it’s still worth looking out for wipeable covers and large formats that are easy to manipulate rather than small and fiddly pages. Many children’s books now also come in Kindle and audio editions, but really nothing beats the feel of paper (or board) in the hand and the sound of mummy or daddy reading.
What’s the best setting for storytime?
Be guided by your child – some children prefer to read in the daytime when they’re alert and receptive; others will prefer a bedtime snuggle with a story. You may find your child has preferred books for different contexts, like exciting new books in the daytime and a familiar story at night.
At any time of day, try to read without other distractions (for example, TV or other noises) so you and your child can focus on the story. If your child likes to read with a cuddly friend, like a teddy or a soft toy character from one of the stories, make sure they’re in the room and sitting comfortably too. Relax and allow enough time to read through the story several times, and to ask and answer questions about what’s happening.
With older children, leave a gap or two at the end of a line and see if they can fill in some of the missing words – this is where rhyming stories and repeated phrases work well.
What are some other things that will help my child to read?
If you’d like your child to start learning the letter symbols, keep flashcards, letter blocks or alphabet foam squares in the nursery or the room where your child plays. You might also have an alphabet frieze around the wall. Help your child identify the letters as and when they ask. Without going full synthetic phonics, you can start associating the letters with the sounds they make. Songs can help, too, and the Sesame Street A-B-C song is a tried and tested favourite that has helped generations learn their alphabet.
When it comes to encouraging your child to read, however, nothing beats reading together and ensuring that storytime is a relaxed, positive thing to do. Make reading fun for both of you by choosing stories you both love, whether timeless classic or modern tale. Our favourites are below.
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