"Getting your kid excited about books is one of the greatest gifts you can give her," says Kathryn Au, Ph.D., president of the International Reading Association (IRA).
You can start early; snuggling with your baby as you look at picture books teaches her to associate reading with comfort. "You can read the phone book, and she'd be happy because she has your total attention," explains noted children's author Jon Scieszka, the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
Get our best tips for encouraging a love of books at an early age.
"Parents have a tendency to read too quickly," says Jum Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook. Pronounce each word, and pause for a beat between every sentence. This helps set a comfortable pace, and it gives older children time to absorb the story, which will spark their imagination.
Help your child connect objects to words by naming things around the house and explaining your actions ("I'm putting your toys away").
Pat or clap as you read to promote your baby's natural sense of rhythm. Try books with a beat, such as The Wheels on the Bus, by Paul O. Zelinsky, and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins.
Be engaging as you read, since your child may not be getting much from the narrative. Try facing him while he's in a bouncy seat. As you read, move the book up and down in front of your face and smile. "This lets him see your excitement and makes the experience more fun," says Pam Allyn, founder of LitLife, a literary-education organization, and author of What to Read When.
Rereading favorites builds a baby's confidence. Plus, your child will learn more each time you go through them.
When selecting books to read to a newborn, keep these four tips in mind:
1. Look for durable board books (chewing and throwing are normal at this age) and soft, waterproof ones for the bath.
2. Books with few to no words are best.
3. Books should have pictures of easily recognizable objects, like balls, bottles, and other babies.
4. Your infant will love books with patterns and strong color contrasts, since his eyesight is still developing.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Parents magazine.