Nurturing a love of reading begins with babies

Dr Karen Boardman - Edge Hill University

"Sharing books initiates oodles of communication and enhanced language opportunities for babies and young children. Babies use their facial expressions and gestures, take turns in conversations, make sounds, and begin to use new words in response to the connections that picture books and shared story times offer."

Dr Karen Boardman - Edge Hill University

Babies love books! As you can see in the film clip below, these babies really enjoy choosing their own book, handling the book, and pointing to the pictures in the book. You can see how these little ones in the film clip take great care turning the pages of the book when provided with these essential early reading opportunities in your settings.

The wonderful exchange in the clip where a baby is independently looking at a picture book on the carpet, gets up to find an adult and confidently hands over the book to the familiar adult to share the book is just delightful. The little one quickly sits down ‘ready to read’. The practitioner encourages this little one to think about the images in the picture book, shares ideas and notes all the points of interest and meaning in the book. You can also visibly see how the baby is encouraged to make connections with their experiences and delights in using expressions and gestures within these back-and-forth communications.

This film clip highlights the role of the practitioner in nurturing a love of books and reading with babies – how fabulous it is to see this in action.

Communication, language development and sharing books

Sharing books initiates oodles of communication and enhanced language opportunities for babies and young children. Babies use their facial expressions and gestures, take turns in conversations, make sounds, and begin to use new words in response to the connections that picture books and shared story times offer.

Providing plenty of opportunities for babies to handle books themselves and share books with practitioners is vital for babies’ and young children’s’ language, communication and wider literacy development. Although, when I meet parents, carers, families and communities, they often remind me that not all families have access to high-quality books (print or digital) or have an understanding of how important reading from birth is for their babies’ learning and development, in the same way that we do (as early years practitioners). Although, we do know that children’s wider early literacy experiences are usually encouraged by families from birth, Levy and Hall (2021) remind us that although families are involved in a wide variety of shared reading experiences in their home environment, this is not always recognised as ‘reading’, as these activities do not involve traditional printed books. Therefore, an essential part of your role is to support families and communities with understanding how books (print and digital) and sharing stories are crucial portholes to the wider world of reading from birth – not just when children are older or when they begin formal education.

We already know from many researchers that sharing books with babies improves their vocabulary, comprehension and their speaking and listening development (Early Education 2021, Flewitt 2013). The new Birth to Five Matters Non-statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage document (Early Education 2021) includes lots of suggestions to encourage babies and young children with their early reading, communication, language and wider literacy development from birth, such as sharing stories often; collecting a wide range of sensory books, cloth books and board books as well as picture books, singing songs and rhymes. I always like to suggest that cloth books and board books can also be readily available on babies’ pushchairs, changing tables and throughout their play areas to introduce or reinforce the concept of reading anywhere, given that these are now widely available. It is also a good idea to make books for babies which include familiar objects, family pictures and familiar places or points of interest. In fact, many settings now ask families to bring in a favourite picture as part of their settling in routine, which aims to support babies with their emotional development and soothe them when they are upset. This is such a lovely idea and highlights the importance of pictures and ‘connectivity’ for babies.

Alongside all the valuable literacy learning, the emotional and social connectedness of cuddling, being close and sharing the sensory experience of books with a significant adult is purposeful and powerful learning. Babies love books!

Nurturing a love of reading

When practitioners provide independent access to a wide range of picture books, babies will naturally want to explore them. Babies are curious about their world, which also includes digital media, given that many families have phones, tablets etc and use these often. Sharing picture books and/or digital stories supports the multi-sensory way that babies’ brains develop. We know that brain development is shaped by the interactions babies have with others.

Building Babies’ Brains – Parent-Infant Foundation ( Evidence Briefs – Parent-Infant Foundation (

Effective pedagogy

Try to encourage ‘readerly curiosity behaviours’ (Boardman 2021, p.3) by nurturing a love of reading with babies at all times. Remember that reading is not always an inactive activity – sharing books enhances the sensory experiences of touch, visual and auditory. As such reading is a physical, tactile, and embodied experience. By this I mean that sharing books and storytelling is an activity absorbed in connectivity, communication and is often consequential for babies – leading to more thinking, more language, more connections with the real world and thus the learning continues. When babies engage and interact with books they learn to understand, create, communicate, and make meaning from these encounters.

When babies and young children have responsive adults who encourage their opinions and support babies with their understanding, these important connections are enhanced. For example, looking at a picture book, noticing a star and the baby then uses gestures to make a connection with a request to sing ‘Twinkle Little Star’. These consequences do not happen by accident – they are nurtured by responsive adults who value books for babies.

  • Try to ensure that sharing books and having access to books is child-focused and not just an adult led activity – access and agency is important for babies too throughout the day (see Boardman and Levy 2019).
  • Allow plenty of time for babies and children to become interested and immersed in the wonderful world of picture books (print and digital). Share books often with babies.
  • Encourage carrying books, handling books, transporting books, and exploring digital media – these are all part of the tactile practices of books and reading experiences for babies.

  • Talk, talk, and continue to talk – point to the pictures – find the familiar on the page, make comments. Make connections with real life – ‘Can you see the ball? Where is your ball? Shall we get your ball?’
  • Read, revisit and re-read babies’ favourite books often with them. Babies just love going back to their favourite books and learn such a lot from repetition.
  • Use books with images – real, meaningful, and fun. Ensure that the images represent and value the children’s cultural world.


  • Boardman, K. 2021. ‘Why do early years educators engage with phonics policy directives in their work with under-threes in England?’ Policy Futures in Education. 20 (1). 1 – 18.
  • Boardman, K. and Levy, R. 2019. ‘I hadn’t realised that whilst the babies and toddlers are sleeping, the other children can’t get to the books!’ The complexities of ‘access’ to early reading resources for under-threes. Early Years. 41 (5). 443-457.
  • Early Education. 2021. Birth to Five Matters. Non-statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Education/The Early Years Coalition. Birth To 5 Matters – Guidance by the sector, for the sector
  • Flewitt. R. 2013. OCCASIONAL PAPER 3: ‘Early literacy: a broader vision’. TACTYC. Microsoft Word – Occ Paper 3 Rosie Flewitt ABSOLUTE FINAL+jp.doc (
  • Levy, R. and Hall, M. 2021. Family Literacies Reading with Young Children. Routledge.

Read more about early literacy

Laying firm foundations for literacy starts from the very beginning with babies, because enthusiasm for communication starts within those early weeks and months. Over the first year of life, babies can become keen on books, songs and nursery rhymes. Older babies show you that, as young as they are, they have developed a sharp ear for the sounds of their language.

Laying firm foundations for literacy

Karen Boardman is passionate about ‘all things’ Early Childhood Education and Care, particularly literacy and early reading and working with under-threes. She is a strong advocate for babies and under-threes.

She have been working in the ECEC field for 40 years as a practitioner/teacher/researcher.

As Chair of TACTYC, Karen is able to continue to advocate for the field of ECEC.

Learn more about Karen

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