When my children were young, a neighborhood mom told me, "The best advice I ever got from an experienced book seller was to choose books for my children that I liked, because I would be reading them over and over and over."
How do we choose books for our children? Often before children are born, they have been given such classics as Mother Goose Rhymes, Pat the Bunny, or Goodnight Moon. If you have some favorite books that you remember, start there. Your fondness for the literature will rub off on your children.
Children often request the same book be read again and again. Reading the same book each night at bedtime signals the end of the day, gives children a sense of security, and helps them begin to connect the spoken with the written words.
Even newborns respond to the sound of a voice and the different cadence of someone reading as opposed to just talking. For infants and toddlers, it is the rhythm of language and the familiar voice that attracts attention. As Maria Montessori pointed out, children learn through their senses. The child listens to the sounds, sees the reader's lips, looks at the book, and feels the warmth of the person reading to him. At this early stage of development, it's best to choose books with a very simple story and pictures of things familiar to your child. Simple board books such as Everywhere Babies will hold your child's interest and allow your child to handle a book before being able to turn paper pages. The movement of opening a window in a book with flaps or feeling the textures in a touch-and-feel book will fascinate your child as well.
Montessori emphasized that children need concrete experiences before they are able to think abstractly. Therefore, it's best to avoid books of fantasy until your child is older and can easily distinguish make-believe from reality. Poetry is a good choice for this age. Children like rhymes and enjoy learning simple poems; you might find a favorite poem from your childhood in one of our poetry books such as A Family of Poems. Children will enjoy "reading" such books as Brown Bear or The Wheels on the Bus after becoming familiar with them. The First Picture Dictionary presents endless possibilities for learning vocabulary and reading together. Children love petite books that are not much bigger than their own little hands.
Seeing other family members read encourages the child to appreciate books. When you are busy, try letting your child sit nearby with a book. One parent said she propped a familiar book in the corner of the crib for the child to "read" upon awakening. Teach your child how to turn the pages and care for a book. Have a low bookshelf or special basket for your child's books. Because learning through all the senses is critical to brain development, provide children with real books, not the electronic ones, until age ten or twelve.
Going to the library to choose books and attend story time is a great experience. As your child explores the picture books, you'll discover what catches his attention and can find good books to read together. The librarian is a wonderful resource when you have questions about what is appropriate for your child's age and interests.
By age four or five, most children can tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction. For example, they know "green eggs and ham" are not real. They also have an understanding and love of humor beyond the slapstick they enjoyed at age three. The stories now are more complicated as the children explore how the world works. Encourage curiosity with nonfiction books such as Same, Same, but Different or How a House Is Built.
Monitor your child's ability to comprehend the make-believe world. Since some children are naturally more sensitive than others, it is best to introduce fairy tales later. Usually, children of five or six can understand fairy tales and the morals conveyed in these stories. Listening to your children's interpretations of a story will give you good information about their level of understanding.
No matter the age of your children now, make time to read to them. Not only is it an opportunity for closeness, but it's also a time to start a habit that will enrich your lives forever.
"As soon as your baby is able to sit and focus, she will enjoy short periods spent on your lap looking at picture books, and hearing you talk about what is on the page. As she grows, read to her every day, not only at bedtime, but whenever you can."
—Tim Seldin, How to Raise an Amazing Child
—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.
—Originally Published 2012