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Book reading with babies and toddlers for nursery teachers - Progetto Asilo Nido

Updated on October 10, 2012

Book reading with babies and toddlers for nursery teachers - Progetto Asilo Nido

As nursery schools professionals and mothers, we tested different kind of book reading to our babies and toddlers (and books, too!). We started from two simple questions: "how can we use book reading to promote the development of our group of children" and "how can we practically use book reading in a developmentally appropriate way"?

Last update: 9/21/2012

In this lens, we'll talk about reading as an educational tool in 0-3yo child care, in particular from the professional caregiver's point of view. We'll see the 4 types of book reading most commonly used with babies and toddlers, and the related actions of the caregiver during the reading.

We'll see the value of reading as educational activity for 0-3 year old children and the importance of repeated replay. We'll reflect about the comprehension of what we read with children: why it's important for a child and how a caregiver can improve it.

The theoretical framework from which we started our experimentations is based on the research of professor Enzo Catarsi, University of Firenze (for example: Catarsi, 2001).

The use of books by babies and toddlers will be focalized in another lens, as it's peculiarly different from book reading (and very important for early childhood education).

Is reading important for your babies and toddlers?

This is a long lens to read, so would you like to stop a moment and share your opinion on the importance of reading for babies and toddlers?

How much book reading is important for your children?

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1 - Narrative reading

Narrative reading is the simple reading aloud by the educator; the story is presented as is seen in the image book. It can be use to present a new book to children that don't already know the story.

In the nursery, narrative reading is useful to start a reading session when the children activity rhythm is high (e.g.: after a gross-motor activity). When an educator begins reading, with a well-shown book in hands, she rapidly gathers 3-6 children around herself.

To better involve the children in the story, the caregiver should switch to reading aloud.


2 - Reading aloud

Reading aloud is based on feedback from children. The nursery educator proposes and illustrates the story that takes place in the book relying on the feedback it receives from children.

Reading aloud isn't important for language development only; it:

  • Contributes to stimulate attention and concentration (for example: to increase the attention span)
  • Facilitates the creation of own mental images
  • Facilitates the creation of connections among different parts of the story
  • Effectively promote socio-emotional development

Feedback analysis is fundamental to individualize the reading experience for each child. Through individualization, a caregiver better promotes the harmonic development of each child.

Examples of individualization are:

  • When the child shows discomfort or fear at a specific “page” (e.g. A picture of a barking dog or wolf); in this case, the caregiver will soothe that child and quickly proceed to the next page.
  • When the child appreciates, finds something funny or needs a repetition; in this case, the caregiver will have fun with the child and will replay (more than 1 time!) that page or part of the story, trying to make it more involving and interesting for the child.

In this way, the educator and each child create a small ritual, like starting to tell something about an image and then waiting for that child to intervene by words or pointing, jumping, clapping her hands, etc.

Reading aloud is useful during the first real interactions of the children with the stories they discover "inside" the book as object (12-18 months).

From the operative point of view, reading aloud can be easily shifted to dialogic reading as the children grow up.

In reading aloud, the teacher receives feedback from children and adapts his reading, while in the dialogic reading the educator proactively involves the children.


3 - Dialogic reading

Dialogic reading (Whitehurst et al., 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1999) aims to engage children in a deliberate, systematic and proactive way. This engagement can be facilitated with questions, stimulating their interventions, with verbal mirroring, indicating parts of the image, etc.

The text and / or images from the book thus become a basis on which the educator creates with each child her own story.

This "interactive story" will then be the basis for future repetitions in the reading of that book: the child expects to intervene in that specific passage, with that specific phrase or action, etc.

Dialogic reading is to be considered the most interesting type of reading for children of 18 months and over, because the caregivers can choose in advance the books and design specific educational points on which stimulate children.

Note. The dialogic reading can be easily used with a small group of children over 18 months (4-6 toddlers).

As every nursery teacher can easily observe, the dialogic reading of the teachers is very exciting for the children.

Difference between narrative reading and dialogic reading

From an educative point of view, the difference between narrative reading and dialogic reading is very important. In both reading styles, the caregiver is always dominant and "educative", but she considers differently the cognitive level of each child and therefore she differently operates to enhance it (Barbieri & Devescovi, 1989).

  • In narrative reading, the cognitive level of each child is determined by the representation that the caregiver has about it.
  • In dialogic reading, the cognitive level of each child is directly monitored by the educator during the interaction, allowing her to properly calibrate the subsequent interventions. In other words, in case of numerous children, each with her specific linguistic and cognitive competence (as we naturally find in 18 months and over), dialogic reading is a more effective educational tool.


4 - Narration

In the narration, graphic support is only a track on which the teacher tells a story (storytelling). This narration can be dialogic, too.

Narration is a powerful tool not limited to book reading.

By Jdodge3 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, the "story" can be a codified phrase or group of phrases, mutually elaborated by the teacher with each child.

For example, consider the little narration that the nursery teacher tells in front of the locker of each child, when they passes on, or the stories she tells using the pictures of the children hanging on the decorated panels on the wall.


Which kind of reading do you prefer?

We have just seen four kinds of reading we of Progetto Asilo Nido have tried in our child care centers.

But we really love to know YOUR favorite kind of reading to your children!

Which kind of reading do you use with your children?

See results

The nursery teacher during book reading activities

When the nursery teacher reads a book, the relationship between her and each child should be characterized by encouraging and confirming the child by:

  • Nonverbal Behavior:

  • caregiver looks each child and proactively searches to establish an eye contact, nods and smiles;

  • her gestures are consistent to what she’s saying;

  • she clearly displays emotional and physical availability (e.g.: mirroring the feelings of the children, giving and accepting proximity and physical touch)

Verbal behavior:a calm tone of voice and a quiet volumea direct and simple speech when using an emotive tone of voice to characterize the reading, it should be strongly coherent with the images presented to childreneducator should not use ironic tone, be lazy or adopt aggressive standing, as they might confuse some children

Coherence:words must match the imageswords (and images) must match the familiar things the children know (see next paragraph)new words are presented to children starting from their actual experience, for example by repeating them together with the already known synonym.


Reading and body posture

In child care services, we usually find two postures:

  1. Teacher as "armchair", which contains 2-4 children on her legs or very close to her
  2. Teacher sitting in front of children or inside their hemicycle (at the same level)

The first posture is typical with children under 30 months or to use the book in a moment of emotional and physical holding of a child. It is important because, in addition to physical contact, it effectively promotes joint attention with children.

The second posture facilitates the exchange of glances and encourages dialogic reading with older children, in small or larger group (6-10 children).

In both cases, the physical proximity is important because it reassures each child and increases its emotional involvement in the activity.


How to improve reading in the nursery

It's possible to improve the educational effectiveness of the reading session planned for a group of children. For example, nursery teachers can prepare themselves reading and repeating aloud the story in front of a mirror, or using a voice-recorder.

Teachers should also pay attention to (and remember!) the specific changes that each child brings to the story. Then they could easily use these changes to prompt a child with verbalizations, verbal mapping, or specific stimuli (e.g.: with a 30 months: "Anna, and now the wolf will...").


Book reading as educational activity in the nursery school

To effectively use book reading as educational activity in the nursery school, the nursery teachers should:

  1. Clearly consider book reading in the overall educational project, by identifying:

  2. aspects of development that each child should display to start a specific book reading;

  3. educational objectives;

  4. space, time and books to be used;

  5. type of reading;

  6. links with other activities;

  7. indicators to be observed;

  8. parameters to be evaluated, etc
  9. Insert book reading into the curriculum in an organic way (i.e. Create synergies with other activities)
  10. Propose book reading to the children, as a mean to promote their self-esteem, confidence, security, ability to pay attention, concentration, social interest, ability to cooperate. The nursery teacher must encourage and emphasize every positive efforts of each child (directed toward her, toward books and reading, or to peers), and never emphasize lack of interest or other issues perceived as "wrong" by the educator herself.


Importance of repetition

One of the peculiarities of reading in nursery schools is its instant and continuous replay: the children immediately ask for the repetition of the story ("Again").

This repetition is fundamental, because it allows:

  • The children to exercise control over emotions resulting from the reading and its contents (e.g. the new words)
  • Educator to better individualize the educational activity of reading. For example:

  • to check if new words have been understood with the intended meaning and proper pronunciation;
  • to propose individual "extensions" of the activity to each involved child.

Note. If children do not ask for repetition, it is likely that the story is not engaging or it's inappropriate to their level of development (the children usually manifest this lack of interest during the reading, too).

In this case it is advisable to give it a try with another book, even immediately stopping the current reading.

In addition, a reading session should not be prolonged over the time children can stay around in the same place (sitting or slightly moving). This duration depends on the development of each child and his temperament. For example, a 12-15 minutes reading session usually tires children of 24-30 months and, if prolonged over, they'll want to move away.

In this case, it is advisable to stop the reading activity and start a brief motor play (usually gross-motor play). Next time, the nursery teacher will propose an abbreviated version of the story, or another book.


Quitting an "Again!" sequence

Usually, a child loves to listen to her preferred stories at least another time.

Then again.

Then again, again...

If you consider eight to ten toddlers, you'll surely understand why we crave to see your answer to this:

What strategy do you use to quit a prolonged "Again!" sequence?

Reading comprehension

The nursery teacher should always evaluate the comprehension of what is being read. Indeed, the reading of a book allows the child to know many things: new words, actions, emotions, etc, often indicated by a more complex and less familiar term (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998). Especially during the first reading of a book, everything can be easily confused by the child or confuse the child. For example, consider images that aren't coherent with the story, or situations and objects not familiar to the child.

In particular, researches show that children under 4 years of age have great difficulty to understand the meaning of new words introduced only when reading (Eller et al., 1988; Elley,1988; Robbins & Ehri, 1994).

The educator must then analyze how each child comprehends the readings, to:

  • Improve her own educational action

  • Allow the child to take full advantage of reading as an educational experience

The way to do this is to analyze the feedback received from each child, in particular during the replays.


Feedback analysis for the reading comprehension

When reading with children under 18 months, analysis of feedback is difficult. So the educator should:

  • Previously select texts and images so as not to be ambiguously interpreted by the children, standing their actual development
  • Repeat several times the stories paying particular attention to the pronunciation of individual words and, where needed, connoting emotional tones of voice with correct and equal to each repetition.

For children between 18 and 24 months, the teacher repeats the important parts of each page, stimulating the children to confirm repeating the keywords. For example: "Did you see that here ... A. goes to sleep?"; children at this age respond for example: "... goes to sleep?"

For children older than 30 months the main instrument is the direct questions and stimuli for dialogue, since children of nursery usually do not make any specific questions about things they don't understand.



  • Barbieri M.S.-Devescovi A. (1989). “Leggere insieme una storia: il comportamento di spiegazione dell'adulto al bambino”, in Barbieri M.S. (a cura di), La spiegazione nell'interazione sociale, Torino, Loescher, 155
  • Catarsi E. (a cura di), (2001). “Lettura e narrazione nell’asilo nido”. Ed. Junior
  • Cunningham, A. E., & K. E. Stanovich (1997). “Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later”. Developmental Psychology 33, 934–945;
  • Eller, G., C. C. Pappas, & E. Brown (1988). “The lexical development of kindergartners: Learning from written context”. Journal of Reading Behavior 20, 5–24
  • Elley, W. B. (1988). “Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories”. Reading Research Quarterly 24, 174–187
  • Robbins, C., & L. C. Ehri (1994). “Reading storybooks to kindergarteners helps them learn new vocabulary Words”. Journal of Educational Psychology 86, 54–64
  • Whitehurst, G. J., J. N. Epstein, A. L. Angell, A. C. Payne, D. A. Crone, & J. E. Fischel (1994). “Outcomes of an emergent literacy intervention in Head Start”. Journal of Educational Psychology 86, 542–555;
  • Whitehurst, G. J., A. A. Zevenberg, D. A. Crone, M. D. Schultz, O. N. Velting, & J. E. Fischel (1999). “Outcomes of an emergent literacy intervention from Head Start through second grade”. Journal of Educational Psychology 91, 261–272.


Useful external links

These links could be useful to deepen your interest on book reading in early childhood:

Book reading with babies and toddlers for nursery teachers - Conclusions by Progetto Asilo Nido

In this lens we proposed some reflections on reading as an educational tool in nursery schools, in particular from the point of view of educators.

The types of usable reading in nursery schools are:

By Jon Mick [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

1) Narrative reading, based solely on reading the text "as is" by the educator, 2) Reading aloud, in which the educator, while reading aloud, proposes and unravels the story described in the book, following the feedbacks she receives from children, 3) Dialogic reading, based on the intentional, proactive and systematic involvement of the children; 4) Narration (storytelling).

We then observed the behavior that the nursery teacher must keep during the proposal of reading activities, dwelling on the need that such behavior is marked by encouragement and confirmation. Talking about the action of the educator during the reading, we saw a note on body posture and how the teacher may improve reading to create more effective educational activities.

We then observed that reading, as educational activity, must be: a) Developed in the overall educational project; b) explicited in the curriculum, c) organically inserted into the daily educational practice. The importance of repeated readings was highlighted here.

Finally, we proposed some reflections on reading comprehension. It: a) Allows the daycare educator to improve its educational activity, b) Allows the child to take full advantage of reading as an educational experience. The understanding of reading, from the practical point of view of a kindergarten teacher, is obtainable with the analysis of the feedback received from each child and the repetition.


We've arrived to the end of this long lens on book reading.

Before the last "conclusions" paragraph, we like to thank you for your visit.

And, as we really appreciate feedback, we thank you in advance for leaving us a comment.

All comments and suggestions are welcome! - ("Like" too... :)

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    • Scullyvan profile image


      6 years ago

      It's so very important for children to learn to read. Thanks for gathering all this valuable information together.

    • ProgettoAsiloNido profile imageAUTHOR

      Progetto Asilo Nido 

      6 years ago from Italy

      @eilval: Thanks a lot, Eilval, for your visiting!

    • eilval profile image


      6 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Great lens and very informative !

    • ProgettoAsiloNido profile imageAUTHOR

      Progetto Asilo Nido 

      6 years ago from Italy

      @WriterJanis2: Thanks Janis for your visiting and liking us! We do hope to be of help to someone to make a child smile :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Glad to see you're getting this important info out there.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Glad to see you're getting this important info out there.

    • ProgettoAsiloNido profile imageAUTHOR

      Progetto Asilo Nido 

      6 years ago from Italy

      @anonymous: Thanks a lot!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      nice lens

    • ProgettoAsiloNido profile imageAUTHOR

      Progetto Asilo Nido 

      6 years ago from Italy

      @TransplantedSoul: Youâre right, TransplantedSoul. One of the most powerful educational tools is to be a model for your children. Because children are always observing you, you canât simply âact as a modelâ.

      Thanks a lot for your interesting comment!

    • TransplantedSoul profile image


      6 years ago

      As well as reading to your children, it is important for them to see you reading for your own pleasure too. they need to realize that this is an activity that you love and enjoy.

    • ProgettoAsiloNido profile imageAUTHOR

      Progetto Asilo Nido 

      6 years ago from Italy

      @RoadMonkey: Thatâs the most important thing!

      Read to your child as soon as possible, whenever itâs possible, with the most possible fun for each other :) There will always be the chance to improve later.

      RoadMonkey, we gladly thank you for your expert opinion. Hugs from Italy

    • RoadMonkey profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting but I'm glad I didn't need to know all this before actually reading to my children!


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