Many people think that a child can only enjoy books if someone can read to them or once they are able to read on their own, but this simply isn’t the case. Children as young as 3 months old can begin to explore books by mouthing them, touching them, playing with them in unconventional ways (but totally acceptable for their level of development, like smacking and pounding). They can even start turning pages in board books (with some assistance from you!) as early as 8 months old.
Children love reading and exploring their environment and the sooner a child learns to love books and reading, the better. I read to our son as young as 2-3 months old inside a hair salon while daddy was getting a haircut. I read “Oh the Things You Can Think!” by Dr. Seuss and he was entranced with the book (also one of my favorite children’s authors).
Books that rhyme are best for learning about books and reading. When reading to a child, it’s good to be animated, inflect your voice a lot, read slowly, and sound excited. The child may try to hold or touch the book- regardless of how they touch the book, it’s a good idea to let them. While their unconventional methods of exploring a book may seem odd to you, if you don’t let them interact with books in the way they are able to from a young age, they may learn to dislike reading because it’s “always out of reach”. It is important to let children touch, play with, and mouth books because these are their first experiences with books and you want them to be positive.
The best books for children under 2.5 years old, and maybe even 3, are board books (ie: cardboard books), fabric books, and waterproof books (bath books) because kids younger than 2.5 enjoy ripping paper and cannot be gentle enough to handle traditional paper pages properly (nor should you expect them to!). Young children don’t know or understand how to be gentle with regular paper page books and magazines and will rip them, either intentionally for fun or unintentionally while trying to explore the new item. It’s best to have the appropriate kinds of materials for books for your child so your investment in quality reading materials is not destroyed. If you intend on reading to children in this age group, the simpler and shorter the story the better- many times they get bored sitting still for so long unless it’s a favorite story.
You may decide to read paper books aloud to your child while not letting them have contact with the book, but this can have a negative impact on the child because in a sense it teaches them that books are “hands off” which can inadvertently teach them that books are not fun or enjoyable, which is the opposite message you want to send. It’s best to read chapter and longer books to children once they are in preschool or grade school. They’ll also appreciate the storyline better and be able to follow a long, detailed story more effectively.
A way that young babies can explore books is by having them spread out on a soft rug on the floor. If a baby is laying down on their back, you can put the book on their belly or next to them and they can explore it.