Baby is a few years away from learning their ABCs, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start to build their love of reading. There’s the point when you start reading to Baby, though, and then there’s the point where Baby starts to let themself be read to, instead of just letting your words drift past them. And for some children, those two events are closer together than they are for others.
Some of when Baby starts paying attention to a story has to do with their rate of learning to speak, but a significant amount of it has more to do with their interest in books as objects, the pictures or interactive activities in the books you choose, and how much they want to stick close to you and listen to your voice. Of course, all of these factors have more to do with Baby’s specific and individual rate of growth than they do with their age, but there is a general timeline for a baby’s stages of interest in the written word.
Around 4 to 6 months
At around the time that Baby starts to get interested in toys and objects in general, they will probably start to take an interest in the books you read them. After all, at this stage, books are a game for Baby, and games are their way of exploring and learning about the world. At this age, they will probably be most interested in books with big pictures in contrasting colors, pictures with faces, books with sensory or interactive elements to them, and books with only one word or concept per page. Baby may be interested in starting out exploring books with their mouth, so big board books and soft, cloth books are good places to start.
They may also start tearing the book you’re reading to them away from you and exploring it themself. You could play tug-o-war with an infant, but it’s generally just easier to let them have their way, and move on to another book as they explore the old one. There’s no need to worry about Baby not getting the full narrative all at once – at this point, it’s mostly about the combination of the exposure to language, and building positive associations with books.
Around 6 to 12 months
In the second half of Baby’s first year, their language comprehension starts to grow. This will happen sooner than you’ll notice it, as they will have to build significant comprehension skills before they really start getting the hang of talking back. As this growth happens, Baby will start to recognize some of the words in the books you read them, and will start to be able to draw connections between the words you’re reading and the images on the page. As you talk to them, and interact with them about the images and concepts in the books, that comprehension will grow.
This shift in understanding often comes around a time when Baby is starting to be more and more mobile and restless, which can be a good time to transition storytime away from being an active event you do when Baby is alert and energetic, and more into a winding down, bedtime activity.