Story Time Habits in Early Childhood

Reading to your infant or toddler is important for so many reasons, but did you know that how you read to your child matters? Interactive reading, or shared book reading, is not just fun for parents and children, it can foster development of early speech, language, and literacy skills. Interactive reading involves so much more than just reading the words in a book - take a look at the strategies below for some ideas!

1. Start From Day 1, or Before

Research has shown that babies are listening to their mother's voice during their last few months in the womb, and this prepares them for the intense speech and language development that happens early in life (Check out the article here for information).  Reading aloud while you are pregnant is a great way for you or your partner to bond with your baby and enrich their world with more language.  Adding story time to your infant's day can help you keep this as part of your routine when your child is old enough to show you just how much they love it!

language development when pregnant

2. Choose the Best Books

For infants and toddlers, stick with books with clear, simple pictures or drawings.  Look for text that's repetitive and predictable, and then look for signs that your little reader is predicting what comes next once they're familiar with the book.  Pick books with interesting and interactive features, such as flaps to lift and textures to feel.


story time language

3. Comment, Describe, & Explain

Talk about the pictures in the book instead of just reading the words that are written.  Name pictures you see as you point to them, talk about what characters are doing, and talk about the colors you see.  Keep your sentences short and simple, and add complexity as your child develops. Vary the tone, pitch, and volume of your voice to match different characters and watch how your child responds.

4. Expand Beyond "What's that?"

There are so many types of questions, don't get stuck on, "What's that?!" Ask simple who, what-doing, and where questions.  It may feel strange to ask a baby questions, but when you ask simple questions, pause, and then provide the answer, your infant or toddler will start to understand the conversation rhythms involved in talking back and forth. Just be careful to keep those questions to a minimum so a fun conversation about a book doesn't begin to feel like a quiz.


Make book reading fun!

5. Keep It Short and Build

Every young child will have a different attention span during storytime. Keep a close eye on how interested and attentive your child is during story time, and be ready to keep storytime brief if necessary. Slowly increase the time you expect your child to sit and pay attention during books, aiming for about 10-12 minutes by the time he or she turns 2.

6. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat...

Brown Bear again?? Yes! Children love to hear the same books read over and over. This repetition can be comforting to a child, as it builds familiarity and predictability. Keep things fresh by pausing at the end of a line in the book to see if your child can fill in the last word. Use funny voices for each character. Ask your child to “read” the book to you and see what happens!

Does your child resist story time or struggle to pay attention?

Try these strategies:

  • Make storytime an intentional and consistent part of your routine. Add a few minutes of reading books before nap and before bed. Talk your child through what’s coming by saying things like “It’s time for nap! First we’ll change your diaper, then read stories, then you’ll go to sleep.” 
  • Start small! Storytime may just be 1-2 minutes at first. Once your child is able to handle more, add another 30 seconds or a minute at a time.
  • Keep things fun by allowing your child to turn the pages and flip parts of a flip book, or encouraging your child to imitate actions and sounds from the book.
  • Allow your child to have little bit of control over storytime. They can choose the book from the shelf or from two choices you offer. They can take turns with you reading the book “in their own way,” even if that just means flipping the pages.
  • Reduce demands at first to increase engagement. Try limiting your questions and directions during storytime at first. Just describe the pictures or read the words without putting any demands on your child. When their tolerance of storytime starts to increase, slowly add in a couple of simple questions or directions.

Jessica Krishnamoorthy is a speech-language pathologist, who specializes in early language development at Kid Connections Therapy in Severna Park, Maryland.