Reading to your child is important, but the way you read is important, too.

At each stage of development, you should try to tailor story time to building your baby’s skills at a developmentally appropriate level.

Story Time StagesIn this blog, we describe a growth sequence where the child is growing with his or her story time. We did not include age levels, since every child develops differently.

Assess where your child is at from the following stages, and begin at the level you find appropriate.

Stage 1: Pointing

Children need to begin by pointing to pictures in a book with an isolated index finger. This foundational skill is a building block for later skills.

You can encourage your child to point by introducing him or her to books with textured pictures. These are commonly available wherever you purchase board books for your child.

During story time, use hand over hand prompts to isolate a finger and have your child touch the textured objects. This can be done with ordinary picture books as well.

Stage 2: Word and Sound Imitation, Pointing on Request

For this stage, we recommend books with bold photographs or realistic pictures, with only one to five pictures per page. The Priddy Book series are great for this purpose. When reading with your child, point to pictures and model words and sounds. Animal and vehicle sounds are fun and playful. The more playful the sounds, the more likely a child is to imitate.

Your child should also begin pointing to pictures on request. While looking at a picture book, ask “Where’s the fish?” if the child points correctly, praise him for doing a good job. If not, help him point to the correct picture.

In order to build positive emotional responses to reading, always keep story time relaxed and fun. Spend five to ten minutes on a book, and not more, unless your child really wants to.

Stage 3: Emerging Story Concepts

Story concepts are important for children to learn about and incorporate into their own world. Your child may not have the patience to listen to a full paragraph of text read aloud from Curious George. However, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t understand simple story concepts.

If your child is too fidgety to listen to a story book, you can modify the narrative into short descriptive phrases that match the pictures.

Curious George ate the puzzle piece. Uh-oh. Now he has a tummy ache. Turn the page. Oh, look, the man with the yellow hat is calling the doctor. He says George needs to go to the hospital.”

Story Time StagesChildren who are beginning to master story concepts can practice by retelling events in their own lives. Prompt them with questions to have them retell a short sequence of events.

  • Where did you go?”
  • “To the park!”
  • “To the park?! Wow, who came with you?”
  • “Sandy and Grandpa and Uncle Jamie.”
  • “What did you do in the park?”
  • “We went on the slide. I went on a big slide, and I wasn’t scared!”

Stage 4: Emerging Literacy

At this point in time, your child is beginning to see himself as a reader. You may see him “reading” aloud to himself or to a younger child. The child understands that text carries meaning. He can sometimes make up the text to match the words, or recite it from memory.

Repetitive books such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” and “The Napping House” are perfect for this stage. They empower little readers by presenting predictable text that they can “read” almost independently.

Ask your librarian to recommend some predictable books for your little reader. The more powerful he or she feels about reading, the better!