Building Your Child’s Library: Board Books

Some Thoughts on Reading with Infants and Toddlers

Everyone says you should read to your baby, that reading to them will magically create a love of reading and form an inseparable bond between parent and child. I suppose this is generally true, but I do think there are other ways to develop a healthy reader, as well as ways to squash a love of reading no matter the number of books you have read to them. From what I understand of childhood development, children are imitative. If you love to read, then they are more likely to love reading. If you surround them with books, then they are more likely to pick one up and see what it says. If you yourself embrace reading as an important aspect of your own life, then your child is more likely to do likewise. So, by all means, if you want to read Chaucer to your infant, go ahead. It won’t hurt anything. But if you have an infant anything akin to mine, who is grabbing and ripping and won’t sit still while you read him poetry, do not despair. This is not the only way to nurture a love of reading.

When reading with your child, work on skills one at a time. You might focus on turning one page at a time before you concern yourself with the story on every page, or you might spend time naming the objects throughout the book either before or after reading the story. You can point out letters and words to your child, so they begin to relate the symbols to a meaning. The activities you can do with a book are endless.

You might use reading time as a way to practice waiting, a skill I have not yet mastered myself. Waiting is the hardest! Give your child plenty of ways to practice successfully so when they are grown they will be able to employ patience. Reading is one of the best, because waiting to turn the page is such a short wait, just the right length of time for the littles to practice without becoming frustrated.

Selecting Books for Infants and Toddlers

As a person with rather small financial means, I have to be a bit choosy in what I spend my money on. I can’t just go out and buy the whole set of something because it was shiny and caught my eye. My book collection consists largely of books from the dollar bin and books that were given to us. But some things are worth eating beans and rice for. In that vein, I have developed a list of categories for ensuring a balanced library for the first few years of your child’s life. These are the books that your child will reach for again and again, and will fill them with wonder and joy.

Sensory Stimulating Books

For the newborn and infant, books are a sensory experience. The feel of the pages, the sounds the book makes when it falls on the floor, the taste of the cardboard. When you hold your infant and read to them, they are experiencing massive sensory stimulation. They feel your arms around them, hear your voice and heart, smell your natural scent. Their intellect is being engaged through hearing language. It is not necessary to have specific items for stimulating an infant’s senses, since they are surrounded by sensory experiences in everyday life. Nonetheless, it is fun, and it is good for your own sanity as a parent to have some books that will not be destroyed by bending, chewing, and throwing.

The best books for baby to practice reading on their own are the Indestructables brand books. Babies can chew, bend, and throw to their hearts content, and the books are machine-washable. I don’t have any myself, but they sound wonderful.

Babies will also love books that have materials with various textures. The crinkly material that makes a crunchy sound was a favorite in our house. There are so many to choose from, you’ll have a hard time just choosing one. Jellycat Soft Books makes a line of books with tails. DK Publishing has the Touch and Feel series. As your baby gains gross and fine motor skills, they will be drawn to look through these books on their own as a stimulating independent play activity.

The newest thing in books for infants are the black and white books, based on research indicating that babies cannot see color when they are first born, and that they process high-contrast images best. Some examples include Black on White by Tana Hoben and Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal. I consider these optional, nice to have if you can afford them, but not necessary by any means.

Baby Faces

Babies love babies! My son was most drawn to a book showing infants and toddlers through a typical day. Make sure to have at least one book with pictures of actual babies (i.e. not illustrations). Looking through this book will bring a smile to your child’s face, and joy to your heart.

Books without Words

Books without words invite creativity. You can make up a story for your baby, and when they are old enough to talk, they will tell you endless stories using the same book. Here is a list from Goodreads to get you started.

Interactive Books

Your toddler will love books with flaps, levers, pop-ups, and buttons. Even better, since these books never seem to get old, you only need a few. One of my very favorite books when I was a child was Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. We have a Poke-a-Dot! book that provides endless entertainment, as well as a slide-and-find version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. Also, books with letters, numbers, and shapes to trace provide a good bridge to writing. We have A is for Apple by Georgie Birkett, and even though the boy isn’t tracing the letters yet, we have a grand time naming the objects under the flaps.

Word Books

Books with pictures or drawings of objects are fun to look through when your child begins learning words. They will surprise you every time with new vocabulary! DK Publishing makes fabulous books in this category, with photographs of the actual objects. If your child wants to look through a book and name all of the objects rather than listen to you read the story, that works, too!

Poetry and Rhyme

Infants are drawn to rhyming language. They delight in the beauty of what they are hearing. Do not believe the voices that tell you infants cannot understand! They are human, and they are drawn to the same things all humans are. Poetry is one of those things. Even if you do not know what the words mean, you are drawn to great poetry and song, for instance when they are in a foreign language. The speaker knows the meaning, and you hear it in their voice, see it in their face. Your baby is the same way. They have not yet developed a full vocabulary, but they have an intense understanding of your mood and tone.

Reading, reciting, or singing poetry to your infant also helps develop phonological sense, an important step in learning how to read. The ways sounds fit together in their native language is conveyed to them through rhyme.

For other categories I would be content with a few inexpensive books to own, while supplementing from the library. For this category, I would hoard some of my money and purchase the truly great books. I received Eloise Wilkin’s Poems to Read to the Very Young from my father. It is a gorgeous book with a variety of verse about subjects engaging to young children. I still want to own A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Lois Stevenson and Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. (I love old books!)

For more recent publications, consider Susan Boynton’s books. But not the Hippopotamus is an entertaining read for any age; my friend completing her PhD in English was riveted to the last page. Dinosaur Roar! is a great book for exaggerating speech and adding action with your child.

Whatever you choose, new or old, fancy or plain, the verse that you read to your child while they are young will sit in their hearts forever.

Story Books

Last, but certainly not least, are the story books. These are the books that you collect slowly over the years. Your infant may not have patience for long stories, but if you persist and do not shame them, they will grow into the books you have selected. Books by Eric Carle, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider, are good staples. Corduroy by Don Freeman is a classic. Margaret Wise Brown has penned multiple classics, such as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. There are far too many wonderful children’s stories that can be found as board books to list them all here. For more ideas, look at Ambleside Online’s Year 0 Booklist, Before Five in a Row, and Sonlight’s Preschool Curriculum.

The Ultimate Homeschool Curriculum Outline

I have been working on this matrix since I was pregnant with John, so almost three years now. Today, I have reached a point of satisfaction. I have found good curriculum options, beautiful book lists, and online resources. This spreadsheet lays out what I would like to my son to accomplish from year to year, birth to 18 years old. I wanted to share.

Using the Matrix

To use the matrix, download a copy:

Homeschool Curriculum Outline Public Version

Change the name. Perhaps use your child’s name, i.e. Suzy Homeschool Curriculum Outline. Put the file in your homeschool folder. Now open the file. In the first row, put the years that your child will be the given ages. For instance, the Baby Year might be 2016-2017. Now look at the categories and divisions down the first column. There are a lot, so take the time to absorb the system before making changes. I have listed the amount of time to spend each day or week studying for each broad category. These times are based partially on Charlotte Mason’s PNEU Programmes, partially on what I think will be sufficient to make our way through the material, and partially on overall limits for direct instruction at a given age. Sabbath Mood Homeschool has a very helpful series on scheduling that I relied on intensively in developing my ideas.

Each subject row has the curriculum I have chosen listed under the appropriate ages. You can find descriptions online by searching for the title. These are my very favorite options, based on some broad criteria and my own personal situation. Your selections may differ, and that is good. Just put your own choices into the matrix. That is what I made it for!

Selection Criteria

My selection criteria included financial, implementation, and aesthetic considerations. I am not a wealthy person, so I looked to free and inexpensive resources as much as was reasonable. Some things, such as phonics and spelling, I felt were worth purchasing as a thorough, book-based curriculum, instead of making do with a hodgepodge of library and internet materials. For other things, such as computer science, I was able to find free resources that matched or exceeded the quality of expensive curriculum packages. Many of the college level books I included simply because I already own them. While most do represent my favorite texts, there is nothing sacred about them. Use what you have, or what you find that is inexpensive. I did find a few really awesome curricula in my searching that are a bit more expensive, but I felt they were worth the money. If you know of a less expensive alternative that is of similar quality, please let me know.

In my searching, I also was looking at ease of implementation. Is the program self-explanatory? Can my child work through the material alone? If not, are there clear instructions on what I need to do? My expertise in some areas will show; for instance, I was less concerned about the math and science selections since I will be able to navigate through the material as needed. For the humanities, however, I was much more interested in programs that are already well-prepared.

Finally, I made my selections to conform reasonably well with the pedagogy Charlotte Mason used in her schools. The methods of verbatim copying and narration are applicable to any area of study. (I have been using narration in math tutoring with decent results.) I was attracted to materials with beautiful images and high-quality language. The details are what make a book a pleasure to read, instead of a drudgery.

Keeping in mind the ways that my personal situation and tastes influenced my choices, you can go through and make appropriate changes. If you are not a math person, you may greatly prefer Teaching Textbooks. If you know Latin, you may have a library of material to use. (And please share titles if you do!)

Some Notes on Scheduling

When arranging the curriculum, keep in mind the concept of streams. While I have put a given book in a set year, this is not the way that I look at the information. Each row is a stream. We will begin the stream when the student is ready, which will likely be at the indicated times. If he is ready early, then we will start early, and perhaps more slowly. If he is not ready at the age I have indicated for the stream, then we will wait until he is. It is more important to thoroughly absorb the material than to get to the next item on the agenda.

Once started in a stream, schedule a weekly time to work on the material. Whatever method you use for scheduling, make sure to incorporate time for the new stream. Use and adjust the time guidelines given by category. While it is helpful to have time blocked for a general subject, such as English or math, you must schedule each specific stream within that structure. A lower elementary English session may consist of 10 minutes copywork and 10 minutes of phonics, with time for reading poems and recitation during circle time. The reason for this approach is two-fold. One, things that you do not schedule you will not do consistently. If you do not put Spanish in your schedule, then you will be prone to skip it or put it off until you have forgotten so much you have to start over. Two, the schedule provides a guide for how quickly you move through the stream. If your child can only write two letters during the 10 minute handwriting slot, then that is what they do. You must be patient, and you must stick to it.

Decide before starting how far down a stream the child must go to graduate from high school. I have indicated typical high school levels of achievement by using a brown color for advanced studies. The pace I have set is very fast, but this pace is not appropriate for every child, and definitely nor for every subject for a given child. Pay attention to the person in front of you to make sure that you are not rushing them, and that they are not dragging their feet.

References and Licenses

Please note that this matrix would not exist if I had not found Ambleside Online very early in my homeschool quest. Their work is wonderful, and I have used their curriculum abundantly in designing and filling out my own matrix. I very much recommend reading through their website, and using the parts that resonate with you. I have found so many treasures in their reading lists, books that I would have been unlikely to find otherwise. Even so, I found that their curriculum was very much by white people for white people, and so I was not satisfied in following their reading lists verbatim. There are also some areas glaringly missing from their suggestions, such as computer science. It is my sincere hope that my work will complement theirs, and I have done my very best to adhere to their license. I would ask that you extend the same respect both to them and to me. This material is free, but it had a cost. Use it for your own purposes, and send other people the link to download their own copy. You may not sell or share this spreadsheet. If you would like to use this or a similar matrix for an institution, please contact me.

Please, enjoy, and happy planning!