I grew up loving books. They were the solution to so many needs. Looking for adventure – grab a book. Long car ride – bring a book. Need information on something – check out the selection at the library. Procrastinating homework – read the new best seller. To be fair, it was my parents who instilled this love by reading to me every night before I went to sleep. And, it was such an important part of my development and education that when I became a mother, I never thought twice about incorporating books into my children’s lives.
From the moment they were born, books were part of my kid’s daily routine. In early infancy my husband and I would rock our children before bed and read aloud from novels we were enjoying at the time. After a few months, we moved onto cloth books and board books as part of daytime play, and instilled story time as a staple of bedtime routine. Soon, favorite characters became friends and role models, and our kids were eager and excited to pick the books they wanted to hear. In no time our shelves were filled with short story books and beginning reader books, and now my oldest child and I jockey for many of the same fiction selections from the library.
Imagine my surprise when, at one of my recent book signing events, the parent of a 2 year old told me that he liked my books but his child wasn’t old enough to enjoy books yet. I was so surprised that I kind of flubbed my response. Shame on me! So I decided to pull together a cheat sheet (details below) on basic developmental milestones as they pertain to reading, should I ever find my memory failing again….
In the end I hope you will agree that there is no such thing as “too young for books.” Books and reading can be incorporated into each stage of childhood development. And reading books at the early stages not only compliments and enhances the young child’s abilities; it also promotes literacy and a lifelong relationship with books. (Not to mention establishing a great family tradition…) And those are good things, not to mention something to be grateful for when the tablet/phone/player batteries all die on a long car ride!
Physical and cognitive – For the first few months of a child’s life she is constantly taking in information about her body, her surroundings, and her caregivers. By 3 months of age her uncoordinated motions become purposeful, she can hold her head up (90̊ from horizontal), can track objects to the midline, and she begins to push up with their arms in order to see more of her world.
Social and emotional – The young infant identifies the primary caregivers and is comforted by their presences through sight, touch, voice, and even smell.
Reading – Reading at this point is a bonding event. The physical closeness of being held, combined with a soothing rhythm of speech through lullabies, nursery rhymes, and basic reading aloud helps the child to develop fundamental trust in the parent and be confident that his/her needs are met.
Physical – In these months the baby begins to roll over (intentfully) and sit unsupported. He reaches for objects and draws them towards his mouth. He is also able to transfer objects from hand to hand.
Cognitive and Social – A baby this age begins to show preferential smiling towards people and pictures he is familiar with. And his language progresses from coos to babbles to sound imitation.
Reading – The baby is now interested in books as objects. He loves to hold them, and chew them. Cloth, vinyl, and board books are great toys. Reading aloud helps him to hear new vocabulary and teaches him the rhythm and pattern of language.
Physical – The baby develops the ability to grab things between her thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp), She also starts to stand with help, and maybe crawl.
Cognitive – The baby knows who her primary care givers are and can discriminate between them and others.
Social and Emotional – Babies this age like interactive games like pat-a-cake, and peek-a-boo. Because she knows who her caregivers are she may develop stranger anxiety around those she is not familiar with.
Reading – Baby can now turn pages of books. She may engage with pictures of people and objects she is familiar with. The baby prefers books with photographs over illustrations because she isn’t able to make the abstract connection between a drawing and what it represents. Ask her to point to pictures of things she recognizes and help increase her vocabulary by showing pictures of new things and identifying them aloud.
Physical – The baby can crawl, and cruise, and may take first steps. He can stack objects and may be able to throw a ball. He begins to demonstrate a hand preference.
Cognitive – Baby can indentify objects in response to verbal cues, and demonstrates the beginning of symbolic thinking (ability to use words, actions, or objects to demonstrate what he is thinking about.) He may be able to speak or sign a few words but his receptive language ability (understands more than can communicate) is much greater than expressive language (ability to use verbal communication.)
Social and Emotional –Baby has mastered the concept of object permanence so he knows that things exist even when he can’t see them, but he also knows that he is dependent on his care giver so separation anxiety is more common. When he is comfortable in his surroundings, baby is able to play in parallel with other children (near them but not engaging with them directly.)
Reading – Stories are now interesting to the baby. He loves to see pictures and hear stories of people and places he knows. (Photographs are still best for specific representation.)Simple interactive books are also engaging. He will most likely want to read the same books over and over again.
Physical – The toddler has the ability to walk (forwards and backwards) and climb/descend stairs. She begins to draw scribbles and ultimately copies a straight line. She also has more advanced motor skills such as ball throwing, turning door knobs and unscrewing jar tops. This is a physically active stage and very difficult for the child to sit still.
Cognitive – Speech ability will advance to a vocabulary of 250 or more words and the toddler will begin to put together short 2-3 word sentences. She learns through imitating complex behaviors. The toddler knows objects are used for specific purposes. She begins to be able to work puzzles.
Social and Emotional – Her play is egocentric and she may be selfish and/or self centered. She can imitate mannerisms and activities (good or bad). Her favorite word may be “NO.” The toddler understands the fundamental concept of right and wrong and develops a basic conscience. She will begin to feel pride when she is “good” and embarrassment when she is “bad.” She may also show attachment to objects or toys for security.
Reading – The toddler at this stage can name books and identify them by cover images. She pretends to read books, finishes sentences in books she knows well, and turns the page at the appropriate time. She may use story book language in daily speech patterns. The toddler can also answer questions about what she sees in the book. This is a great time to engage the child beyond the story by asking her to name people or objects in the book and discuss what they do or say.
Physical – Complex skills are refined such as: hopping, jumping, climbing, running, and bike pedaling. The preschool age child demonstrates improvements in fine motor skills and hand eye coordination through activities such as cutting with scissors and drawing shapes. Toilet training occurs.
Cognitive – The preschool age child learns vocabulary, syntax, and grammar at an explosive rate. Receptive language is better than expressive until age 4. Memory becomes very accurate but the child is more suggestible than older children. Thinking is still self-centered, and sometimes illogical or magical. The child has a vivid imagination but also difficulty separating fantasy from reality. The preschooler doesn’t yet understand others have different perspectives. The child has a poor understanding of time, value, and sequence of events.
Social and Emotional – Group play begins as does understanding of “taking turns.” The child imitates adult roles in pretend play. The preschooler knows his own name and can identify his gender. He may engage in gender specific play (only wants to play with children of same gender.) The child may have imaginary friends and can have monster fears and nightmares.
Reading – The preschool age child can identify shapes, colors, some letters and numbers, and certain whole words. As you read to your child, underline the words with your finger to allow the child to “see” the words and connect what they are hearing with the written word. This is also a great time to identify objects on the page and their corresponding word on the same page. Preschool age children can also begin to identify and even write the letters of their own names. They enjoy picking out the letters of their names from the words on the page.
The preschooler also has a better understanding of a character’s choices or motivation. Engage them in questions about a character’s actions or decisions. Ask them what they might do in the same situation.
And a tip to help the development of writing skills – keep crayons or pencils and paper near where you are reading and allow the child to draw or write what they are seeing and hearing. Making their own books is fun too. (But that’s a topic for a future post!)
Stages of early child development:
Alia Reese is the spouse of a US Marine and mother of 2 young children. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and used her experience raising children through her husband’s multiple combat deployments to create the award winning American Hero Books® series. For more information please visit www.heartstarpress.com or contact Alia at firstname.lastname@example.org.