It's never too early to break out the books for your baby. "Reading together gives parents and infants an opportunity to share loving moments," says Sharon L. Ramey, Ph.D., a psychologist and coauthor of Right From Birth: Building Your Child's Foundation for Life. These positive early experiences with books can help babies grow into kids who love to read. And hearing a variety of rhymes, rhythms, words, and repetitions develops language skills. Here, some age-by-age guidelines:
NEWBORN TO 2 MONTHS A young infant's still-developing eyes pick up on bold contrasts most easily, so start with books that have simple, black-and-white or primary-color images, says Deborah Strevy, Ph.D., director of early-childhood education at the Samford University School of Education, in Birmingham, AL.
2 TO 5 MONTHS Babies this age delight in rhythm and repetition, so break out the rhymes. And take advantage of your child's curiosity about his body by playing games, suggests Strevy. You might run your fingers up his arm as you read "hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock," for instance.
As you look through books together, your comments will make it more fun for him, and help him make the connection between what he sees there and in the world around him. If you come across a picture of a ball, you might say, "Look, it's like the red ball at Grandma's house." Go ahead and ham it up by using different voices for different characters -- your baby will be an appreciative audience.
5 TO 9 MONTHS Little book lovers will begin to reach for everything in their grasp, so give yours something interesting to feel by offering such sensory books as Pat the Bunny, with a variety of textures, like scratchy sandpaper and soft felt. And continue to bring out those with short, simple stories.
If your baby starts to chew on his books, gently take them away and offer him a teether instead.
9 TO 12 MONTHS Your almost-toddler will start to hold his books as you read them together, and may even be able to turn pages. Best bets: chubby cardboard versions designed to fit into small hands and hold up to rough handling.
Books that feature one or two words and an everyday item per page are favorites for kids who are learning the names of common objects.