Age-by-Age Guide to Reading to Your Baby (2023)

The Benefits of Reading to Your Baby

Reading is a healthy habit that parents should encourage well before their baby's first birthday. The bonding experience is unbeatable, says Patricia Cowan, national program coordinator for Reach Out and Read, a project that gives children books during medical checkups. When you read to children, they're getting your full attention, and that's what they just love. Nothing -- no TV show or toy -- is better than that.

Research has come out that appears to confirm the value of reading to young kids. For example, babies and young children who are not read to at home by a relative will face a "million-word gap" by the time they go to school. That's because reading out loud creates the opportunity for kids to build their vocabulary, and without that precious time to hear, say, and build pre-literacy skills to eventually read those words, they may lose out.

But while it is important to read to your child every day, it may equally be important what you read to your child. We know that reading to babies and toddlers helps them develop logical thinking, pre-literacy, communication, and emotional intelligence skills, and much of that happens by choosing age-appropriate books that challenge your child.

With that in mind, here's an age-by-age guide to getting your kids hooked on books.

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When to Start Reading to Your Baby

Reading to babies is also a great way to immerse them in the sounds and rhythms of speech, which is crucial for language development. In a study at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, 18- to 25-month-olds whose parents said they had been reading to them regularly for a year could say and understand more words than those whose parents hadn't. In other words, it's never too early to start ready to your baby, so here are some tips for making that happen.

Birth to 12 Months

Birth to 6 months

Since an infant's vision is still developing, you can start reading to your baby with little or no text and big, high-contrast pictures. Also, consider books with interactive stuff, such as puppets, mirrors, or peepholes, recommends Pamela High, MD, author of the Brown University reading study and a professor of pediatrics there. The more ways you both have to enjoy a book, the better. If you'd like, read to your baby from grown-up books or magazines too. Comprehending the words isn't really the point with babies this young.

For infants, reading is about the tone of your voice and cuddling up to you. Here are a few books to read the next time you're snuggled up together:

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  • Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
  • Look! Look! by Peter Linenthal
  • Baby Beluga by Raffi
  • Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver

7 to 12 months

Halfway through their first year, babies may begin to grasp some of the words read to them, says Cosby Rogers, Ph.D., a professor of human development at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The most meaningful words are the names and things from their everyday life -- words like "doggy," "mommy," "daddy," "milk," or "bottle."

Books with just one object or person per age are best; hearing you name something they can recognize reinforces your baby's vocabulary and slowly helps them realize that illustrations stand for real things. Point to the pictures your baby shows interest in. And act out what you read with your face, hands, and voice. Let your baby babble back to you in return, suggests Dr. Rogers. This "conversation" helps them learn to take turns and teaches them about focusing on the same thing as someone else.

As a practical tip, babies this age tend to be hard on their playthings, so try sticking mostly to board books, which can take rough handling (and even chewing!). Cloth or vinyl books are good, too, though turning the pages can be challenging for a baby. Touch and feel type books are super fun, but be sure to avoid any with ribbons, buttons, or other small choking hazards that can easily detatch with a good yank.

Here are a few board books that are sure to capture your baby's attention:

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  • Llama Llama Nighty-Night by Ann Dewdney
  • Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
  • You're My Little Baby by Eric Carle
  • Where Is Baby's Belly Button? by Karen Katz

13 to 24 Months

13 to 18 months

Now, you can begin to introduce books with a sentence or two per page. The sillier you are while acting out the story, the better. For instance, if you're reading about animals, make animal noises. Your baby will think it's really funny, Cowan says. Sooner or later, he will "moo" or "baa" back to you and you'll be ready to fall off the couch laughing.

Invite participation by asking questions such as "What does the dog say?" or "Do you see the cat?" Ask your baby to point to real-life examples of what's pictured, ("Where's your nose?"). At this age, you can show more pictures of things your baby doesn't encounter every day. Also, at 15 to 18 months, your baby may be able to answer questions with a word, so give them the opportunity by asking them, "What's that?" If they answer, you can help boost their vocabulary by expanding on their thought:" Yes, car. That's a big green car."

Here are a few great books to get your baby interacting with the story:

  • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • First 100 Words by Roger Priddy
  • Babies Love Colors by Michelle-Rhodes Conway

19 to 24 months

Many toddlers find the familiar routine of reading reassuring and calming. The same goes for familiar books. This helps explain why, starting at about 18 months, children may ask for the same book over and over and over -- and why they won't let you change your reading performance by a single "meow" or "vroom." However, this dogged repetition has a learning benefit as well: Experts think it helps children make sense of and then remember new words.

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Here are a few books that you might not mind reading over and over again!

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
  • Just Go to Bed (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
  • Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

More Book Picks You Might Love

When we asked our readers to tell us their baby's favorite book, the titles that got the most mentions weren't surprising: Goodnight Moon and anything by Dr. Seuss, followed closely by Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You.

Here are some other raved-about books that you might not have heard of yet:

  • Moo, Baa, LA LA LA by Sandra Boynton "At under 2 years, my son can recite the entire book just by looking at the pages." --Michelle Speer, Edwardsville, Illinois
  • Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom and Time for Bed by Mem Fox "I've read to my 5-1/2-month-old since birth, and he gets so excited when he sees these books, kicking his feet and waving his arms." --Judy James, Miami, Florida
  • Maisy's Colors by Lucy Cousins "My daughter Grace is 11 months old, but she's enjoyed this particular book since about 4 months. I don't know if she likes the mouse or the colors, but it's already completely worn out!" --Catherine Brainerd
  • Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown "My 4-1/2-month-old daughter, Cara, loves Big Red Barn. She even helps us turn the pages." --Sandra Schneider, Berthoud, Colorado
  • I'm a Little Caterpillar by Tim Weare "My 8-1/2-month-old son's favorite book is I'm a Little Caterpillar. He finds it so exciting because it has a cute little finger puppet attached." --Denise McKnight, Metairie, Louisiana

Here are some children's books that parents seem to adore for themselves!

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  • On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier "I still get chills when I read that one." --Cindy Long, Wellfleet, MA
  • Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch "It's the most heartwarming book I've ever read." --Gail Denker, Bayside, NY

Copyright © 2002

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.


At what age should you start reading to your baby? ›

Reading together when babies are as young as 4 months old increases the chances that parents continue reading to babies as they get older. Beginning early is important because the roots of language are developing in a baby's brain even before he can talk!

How many books should I read to my baby a day? ›

A study from The Ohio State University found that young children who are read to five times daily (it's OK if books are repeated!) will hear nearly 1.5 million words by the time they turn 5 — boosting their language development and setting a strong foundation for school success.

Does it matter what you read to your baby? ›

“Even though the baby may not be responding with words, they're learning a really important social skill and they're hearing language.” Across the board, experts say it doesn't matter whether the text is fiction or non-fiction, as long as there's some sort of narrative arc.

How much should I be reading to my child? ›

“Students benefit greatly from a regular reading routine that involves at least 30 minutes of daily reading,” Parrasch says. “Ideally, students should be reading a variety of genres — or at the very least, a mix of fiction and nonfiction.

Should I be reading to my newborn? ›

The truth is that it's never too early to start reading to your baby. The bonding that happens when you're reading to your baby is priceless. And it's super important for brain and language development in children.

Should you read to your baby every day? ›

Try to read every day, perhaps before naptime and bedtime. Reading before bed gives you and your baby a chance to cuddle and connect. It also sets a routine that will help calm your baby. It's also good to read at other points in the day.

How many books should I have for my baby? ›

For kids in kindergarten and younger, the recommendation is to read five books to your child a day. By reading five books a day, it's thought that they'll have heard one million more words than a child who was never read to by the time they're 5.

How long should babies read black and white books? ›

Black and white books for newborns are among the most essential books for your infants, up until they are 6 months old. High-contrast books are vital to their vision!

What are 3 benefits of reading to your baby? ›

Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Baby

It can promote emergent literacy and language development. It helps children become familiar with books and accustomed to listening and focusing. It will also give them an early awareness of the art of reading.

Does reading to your baby in the womb make them smarter? ›

Science has shown that reading to your baby in the womb promotes brain activity and can promote early literacy skills and language development. Literacy skills continue to develop while reading to your baby after they are born. Even though a baby is not able to talk, they are learning about the world around them.

Should I read to my child every night? ›

Reading a bedtime story will give your child this exposure to new words (especially if you're reading the same book, night after night!) and so build their vocabulary. 'Reading aloud introduces children to new words and new ways of describing the world around them,' says Kate.

How often should a parent read to their child? ›

A preschool-aged child who is read to at least three times a week, the study found, will herself be a better reader and thinker--she'll develop the reading ability of a child six-months older.

Why you should read to your child every night? ›

It enriches their language development on multiple levels.

From reading comprehension to listening skills and overall literacy, shared reading can teach children a ton of new skills. But just because your child starts to develop the ability to read on their own, it doesn't mean you have to stop reading together.

Should I read to my bump? ›

Reading aloud to your bump is a brilliant way to include your partner. Sit back, let your partner snuggle in, put their hand on your bump and read. You'll get a well-deserved break and your partner will be building an all-important connection to your developing baby. Your baby learns what you sound like.

How many words should you speak to a baby a day? ›

They suggest that an optimal amount is 30,000 words per day. They even peddle a new device that will count how many words you say to your baby so that you know if you are hitting that magic 30,000, or even the “more realistic” 17,000.

How much should you watch a baby a day? ›

In general, child care costs have increased significantly. UrbanSitter's 2022 National Childcare Rate Survey found that child care costs increased by 11% from 2021 to 2022 alone. The national average was $20.57/hr for one child and $23.25/hr for two children.

Should I read to my baby while breastfeeding? ›

A great way to give your baby language skills early on is by talking or reading to them while you're nursing. According to Parenting, babies love hearing the sound of mom's voice, and it helps strengthen the bond between you as well.

What should my 3 month old be doing? ›

What can your baby do? By now your baby will be starting to experience emotions and communication. They will respond to different expressions, know your voice and will turn to look for you when they hear you. They may start laughing out loud and look around them in wonder – especially at their fingers and toes.

Can my baby feel my emotions when breastfeeding? ›

An infant's intestinal tract responds to its mother's milk by sprouting receptors that detect the hormone, activating neurochemical signals that can travel all the way to the brain. These signals may influence a baby's stress response and the development of brain regions that regulate emotions such as fear and anxiety.

Are breastfed babies more attached to mom? ›

Myth: Babies who have been breastfed are clingy.

Breastfeeding provides not only the best nutrition for infants, but is also important for their developing brain. Breastfed babies are held a lot and because of this, breastfeeding has been shown to enhance bonding with their mother.

Do babies feel happy when breastfeeding? ›

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby. Breastfeeding can give the mother peace of mind that her breast milk is helping keep her baby happy and healthy.


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