Look into any infant or toddler classroom and you will see collections of books in the reading area or in bins and containers throughout the space. For teachers, using books with tiny babies, older infants who want to chew on the book, or those wiggly toddlers who are constantly on the move can be overwhelming and even frustrating at times. So, why share books with these little ones?
Books strengthen the bond between children, caregivers, families and communities. Books provide an activity that can be enjoyed by both the child and adult. Cuddling up together with a great book strengthens relationships as the shared activity and physical closeness provide the child with a feeling of safety and calm. Books tell stories of how people take care of and love others, can calm children’s fears, and help them talk about emotions. In Llama, Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, Llama lies in bed lonely and worrying that his mama is never coming back to his room. When she does return, children are reassured and have an opportunity to talk about their own big feelings and fears. A small group of toddlers informally reading a book about the zoo with a teacher is provided with new words and experiences to try out during their play with blocks and plastic animals. Books also help children learn that they may have the same or different experiences than other people but also share the same feelings or worries.
Books provide children with new experiences outside of their everyday world. As a teacher reads The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats to a toddler who has never experienced snow, they are introduced to new vocabulary words, such as snowsuit and mountain-climber, and wonder about the sound of feet crunching in the snow and what happens to snowballs in pockets. Books encourage children to think about experiences they have had and those that will occur in the future. As a teacher and an infant share Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli, the teacher points to the picture of the banana and tells the child that he must think bananas are yummy because he ate all of his bananas during breakfast. The teacher then points to and names other foods in the book and wonders out loud if the child will have any of those foods in his lunch.
Remember, it is never too early to introduce children to books! Sharing books with infants and toddlers supports learning by immersing them in sounds, words, and language; strengthens relationships; provides enriching experiences; and encourages a love of books to create lifelong readers!
Reference: Birckmayer, Jennifer, et al. From Lullabies to Literature: Stories in the Lives of Infants and Toddlers, NAEYC, 2008