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Here’s a fun way both to teach the notion of story as narrative and to ensure it’s tailored to your toddler’s interest.

First, I sat down with Veronika in my lap to go through a few old catalogs and magazines. The idea was to pause whenever something caught her interest rather than to lead or guide her. Of course, I knew there would be lots for her to like, having selected a toy catalog to flip through first!

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She definitely had favorites, zeroing in on faces. “Baby!” she said with delight, looking at the images of dolls.

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“Baby’s having a diaper change!” I made note of whatever she liked the most, then cut these out with scissors and glued each picture onto a square of white paper.

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Once the glue dried, we had a story we could tell over and over. I let chance dictate, shuffling the cards and then laying them out one by one. Each card was a new element of the story.

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As a result, there were lots of parades and tea parties and stories about animals blasting off in rockets to outer space, thanks to the particular pictures we had to work with. When the first story finished, I shuffled the cards and we did it again!

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She loved curling up in my lap for this, making it a special bonding moment, too. She also would grab for her favorite pictures and hold them as the story unfolded. “Horse!” was a big favorite.

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Older siblings might want a turn weaving a tale for a little sib, too, which will in turn hone those creative writing juices!

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Books in a Box

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You might read the title of this blog and think it’s about storing books in an easy-to-reach spot for your child (which, yes, is a great idea). But nope, I mean it more literally; a large enough box is just right for reading books in the box.

Veronika loves reading her “magazines” (Hello from Highlights) and I wanted to create a cozy spot where she could do so. To wit, I had a big box from a diaper delivery that was perfect for this activity.

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First, we needed to decorate it, and Veronika leaps at any chance to pull out her crayons!

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I thought she might like a cozy blanket and pillow nestled inside, along with a few books.

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It turns out she wanted nothing to do with the blanket. But soon was ensconced and rapt with her “reading”.

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Sometimes she wanted to turn the box on its side, more like a cave to crawl into and read.

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Sometimes it was more like her little reading boat.

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Add a snack if you want, or simply let reading be the draw. Whatever the case, she loved her little reading box!

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Remember What We Did Today?

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This little game is a great way to teach even the youngest kids about a storytelling arc, specifically the notion of a beginning, middle, and end. Since Veronika is rapidly acquiring language, it seemed like the right time to work with her on storytelling, even as big brother does his ELA lessons!

I sat down with her just before bed holding some of the items we’d use throughout our play.  A toy puzzle helped further provide visual cues. “First, we woke up,” I said, pointing to the woman rising for the day in her bed.

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“Then we had a tea party!” I reminded her. She came over to inspect the cups and play with them again.

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“Then you painted with water,” I reminded her, using the paint brush as a cue. Now she could test out a few brush strokes on the tea tray.

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You can hit upon other events in the day, too, like car rides or nap times. Or focus on one particular moment in the day, like a stroll in the park, and discuss any beginnings, middles, or ends. Again, visual cues help!

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“Finally, we’ll brush our teeth and go to sleep,” I told her. No matter how mundane the events of your day seem, it can be very helpful for a child to hear things in sequence like this. Consider making it a nightly practice!

Set Up a Book Corner

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Veronika’s big brother loved books from the earliest age, engaging directly with them and sitting still for story time. Veronika has way more of her own agenda, which means I often find myself reading solo while she crawls around the room. But she does love to pull out a book and flip through pages on her own.

To encourage this early “reading”, I set up a cozy book corner that can be her own special space. Think: blankets, pillows, and anything else that makes the nook cozy.

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Next, add a dedicated book basket. You can decorate it, but I had a hunch Veronika would just view the decorations as invitation to tear them off, so left the basket plain.

Now fill it! I put in copies of her Hello magazines, as well as books that engage with more than just pictures: tactile elements, jigsaw puzzle books, you name it.

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Imagine my delight, then, when I saw her scoot over to the corner, pull books from the basket and “read” to herself.

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Veronika does this with a little drone or humming noise, almost like she’s pretending to read the words as I do.

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She loved the big flaps of one book, and was quite content to read for a while.

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This is definitely our new go-to story spot! Do you have a story nook in your home? Please share in the comments!

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Make a Story Time Fort

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It’s hard to get Veronika to sit still with a book, especially at bedtime when we try to fit in a story between dinner and bath.

But not so when I made this fort! She was content inside for ages with a pile of books.

To make the fort, move your sofa from the wall to create a space large enough for you and your little one (alternatively, you can make the fort under a dining room table). I layered the floor with cozy blankets and pillows.

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Drape a sheet over the back of the couch and secure with shoes or books. Then head inside!

Veronika scooted it in and was immediately delighted.

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I gave her a pile of books, and soon she was thumbing through them and “reading” to herself.

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Of course then it was time to join her and read a few books for real.

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You can even add a flashlight to highlight pages or words. Once the book was through, I retreated to the side of the fort and let her take over, crawling on the pillows, enjoying her books, and reaching up for the beautifully draped ceiling.

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We probably would have stayed in longer except the cat eventually ruined the “roof”!

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Roly-Poly Pictures

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This rolling “book” is a fantastic craft to put together for your baby. It’s a toy and a book at the same time, with so many possibilities for play!

Cut out pictures from magazines that feature items your child will recognize.

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Good candidates include animals (big brother’s Ranger Rick is full of good pictuers!), foods (apples, veggies), everyday items (watches, shoes), or holiday and seasonally themed images (like pumpkins and leaves).

Veronika loved “going through” the magazines with me!

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I glued all of the pictures around an empty oatmeal canister. Any food box that is cylindrical would work just as well. Cover with a layer of clear contact paper to ensure your little one doesn’t rip the pictures right off.

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At first I just showed the cylinder to Veronika to see how she would interact with it.

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Next we played roly poly along the floor!

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But here’s where this toy gets educational. As it came to a stop, we talked about which picture it landed on.

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This becomes a great leaping off point to discuss colors, nouns, or little stories about the pictures. “Once upon a time there was a little cat…” The possibilities are almost endless!

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Story Time with a Twist

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Story time is so important even with the littlest babies, but you may find at around eight months old that your baby is far more interested in chewing on the pages or playing with toys than paying attention to the words. This has definitely proven to be the case with Veronika, so today I made story time a bit more interactive, thanks to the help of a few stuffed animal friends!

How is it that babies amass such huge collections of stuffed animals? I’m not sure I’ve ever bought one, but through gifts, prizes, and more, we have quite a little community.

I pulled out a few and narrated a story. Veronika and her friend frog woke up and decided to go on an adventure through the forest.

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They set off for the forest, but a big noise made them stop. They looked around and heard a growl. But it was only their friend bear, who wanted to say hello. Hello bear!

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They kept walking and saw a stick move. It was their friend snake! Hisss, snake said.

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I had a few more creatures meet her and frog on the journey before the story ended and everyone went home for lunch.

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Veronika was delighted at all the colors and soft stuffies to hug, whether or not she was listening to the “story”.

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Next, I grouped some of her stuffed animals by category. Since we have a lot of dogs, I made up few stories around this puppy “family.” First, one puppy was lost, oh no!

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Could Veronika help mommy dog find her puppy? Hurrah, a family reunion. Next, the puppies went for rides in cars…

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…and then we had a story about a stuffed animal parade.

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Later in the day, we continued the fun with a “birthday party” for a few stuffed animals. I set them up with pretend food and sang the happy birthday song.

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Veronika loved this “story”!

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In sum, you can involve stuffed animals as actors in your baby’s story time in so many ways. What will your animals do next? Climb a hill? Go on a journey? It’s a little different than reading a book and will engage your little one’s imagination and senses.

Vary Story Time

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Storytime with my eldest has always been about the story; even as a baby he sat and listened to a book. Veronika has been a delightful reminder of just how different all babies are, because she looks at a book and she wants… to eat it.

I still read to her every night, but I have to catch her attention! So today we played this little game, varying my voice in ways that made her sit up and focus a little more.

First, I did a silly read through of Goodnight Moon, reading the first half veryveryveryfast and the second half very…very…very…slow. This got looks of surprise and giggles!

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Next I read a favorite color book, but sang the words to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This didn’t line up quite right on every page, but she kept looking at me with interest. I sure had her attention!

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Finally, I read in a deep, silly voice for another favorite book; this got lots of looks of delight after every page, almost as if she was checking to make sure it was still me doing the reading.

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This game will work best with books you read often, where baby is already familiar with the rhymes and rhythms and will notice the differences.

Choose books that lend themselves to getting in on the action, too. When the quiet old lady whispers hush, I put my fingers to her lips. Other good actions to copy include: tickling toes, giving hugs and kisses, or waving hello and goodbye.

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One final way to vary your story time? Vary the location! We took our books to a coffee shop today, where the novel space made her pay more attention to sounds on the pages, and less attention to their taste.

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Introduce Books with Texture and Noise

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Veronika already has a few books in her library that feature texture and noise, but I gifted her with a few new ones because she can approach them in a different way these days: reading solo! Interactive touch and sound will keep a seven-month-old happily entertained, even if you’re busy getting things done around the house, or on the go.

But first we read them together, of course. She loved the bright pictures and her fingers immediately went for textural elements, like soft fur or shiny metal.

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I pressed each sound button, which got a look of wonder from her each time, and described what she was hearing and seeing.

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Pretty soon, she was flipping through the pages and narrating this book to herself – a sight that makes my heart stop every time!

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I also bought a smaller book that’s perfect for car rides or stroller rides. The soft pages fit in her hands perfectly.

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Some pages rattle and some crinkle.

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The first time through, I described these sounds, and the textures she could feel like the soft fluffy cover. She will happily “read” this one to herself for ages.

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What interactive books does your baby like? Please share in the comments!

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Personal Picture Book

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Sure, there are lots of books you can read to your baby from the library or the bookstore. But don’t forget you can also make your own!

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Since babies at Veronika’s age (7 months old) are primarily interested in the visuals, it’s fun to make a book with no words. I used images cut from magazines and catalogs, but your own photos can work well, too! Since the story has no words, you can change it up every time.

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I chose simple images, limited somewhat by which magazines I had around to cut up. Soon we had stories about a butterfly who moved into a house and then…

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Just use your imagination from there!

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Try to find photos that depict familiar objects. As we “read” about the desk and chair in the story, for example, I took her over to the desk and chair in our apartment and pointed out that they were the same.

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Same goes for the picture of a little girl in our story. “Girl,” I told her, and pointed to the picture and then to Veronika. “Same!”

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This book is also great because a big sibling can “read” it to the baby, even if not yet a reader! I loved looking over to see Travis was making up stories for her.

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In sum, a great idea, and we’ll be adding to our “story” as I cut up more catalogs.

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