How to Give Your Baby a Headstart on Reading, For Ages 0-1

By Marilee Joy Mayfield

It’s never too early to read to your baby. You can start by talking, singing, reading, and playing music to your child as soon as you wish. It might seem a little unnatural to sit in a chair and read to your baby in the womb, but there are quite a few benefits to doing so. Your baby relaxes as she or he listens to your warm, reassuring voice and so do you. It’s a way of bonding together as well. And, all scientific research that has been done in this field points to the fact that these early forms of stimulation help your baby’s cognitive development.

By six months, a baby in utero can hear sounds outside the womb. As an experiment, the University of Oregon conducted an interesting research study. They gave new mothers a recording to play out loud with a word that was made up at the end. After the babies were born, they were tested to see if they recognized the sound of that pretend word and they did!


So, which books should you choose to read? If you are starting a collection for your newborn, any of the books you have chosen that contain lots of rhythm and rhyme are perfect. Books you can sing aloud are good too. You don’t need to worry about specific words at this point. Your tone and cadence are much more important. You can start with classics like Nursery Rhymes or popular books by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Margaret Wise Brown, or Sandra Boynton. If you’re a new mother and you haven’t read a board book or a picture book in a while, go to the bookstore or library and look at all the fun, new titles that are available.

Once your little one is born, begin by stimulating his or her eyes with the colorful pictures in cloth books or board books. High-contrast black and white illustrations are good for your baby’s eyes too. At this age, it’s more important for you to talk about the pictures than to be concerned about reading every word in precise order. Begin by naming the objects and colors. You can count repeated images too—one, two, three. Relax and enjoy yourself as you’re reading with your baby. He or she might turn the pages or chew them. That’s only natural! Select sturdy board books or paperbacks if you’re worried about hardback books being damaged.


You’ll find yourself cuddling and nursing your baby during story time too. Love and affection will only serve to have your baby look forward to reading as a positive, happy time when Mommy gives full attention to him or her. And, of course, Daddy can take turns reading too. At this stage, as you read, it will be more like a conversation than an actual word-for-word reading. Think of it as exuberant playacting. Even though your baby can’t answer yet, he or she will be paying attention if you act surprised, laugh, or ask “What do you think is going to happen next?” before you turn the page.

And, as you are reading words on the page, place your finger under each word and move from left to right. Eventually, your baby will make the connection between the text on the page and the words you’re saying.

Happy Reading!

 By Marilee Joy Mayfield

Marilee has 15 years experience in education writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Her works have been distributed through Barnes and Noble, Koorong, and Scholastic.