Infants and Toddlers, Ages 0 – 3 years old

Research shows that reading aloud to young children promotes the development of language and other skills and helps children prepare for school.

Duursma, E. Augustyn, M., Zuckerman, B. “Reading Aloud to Children: the Evidence.” Archives of Disease in Childhood. July 2008 Vol 93 No 7. Pp. 554-557. Available Here

Building Language and Literacy
Research tells us that early language and literacy skills (the skills we use to read, write and communicate with each other) develop very early in life. A child’s first three years of life are very important to the development of these skills. 2 When are our very young children (babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers) learning these skills? This learning is happening during their very earliest experiences with people and objects. The interactions that young children have with materials such as books, paper, crayons, and with the adults in their lives are the building blocks for language, reading, and writing development.

Early language and literacy skills develop best in real life settings, through positive experiences in everyday moments with your child—reading books, talking, laughing and playing together.2 Children learn language when you talk to them and they communicate back to you, and when they hear stories and songs aloud. Children develop early literacy skills when you give them the chance to play with and explore books and other written materials like magazines, newspapers, take-out menus, markers, and crayons.

Building early literacy in your child does not mean teaching him or her to read. 3 Rather, you as the parent and primary educator are cultivating a love for reading and communicating that sets your child up for future academic success. Formal instruction that pushes infants and toddlers to actually read and write words is not developmentally appropriate, and it can be counter-productive if children begin to associate reading and books with anxiety or failure. Children learn best through play: they develop physical and social skills and exercise their creativity. Play develops a love for learning.

IMPORTANT ADVICE: Keep talking in your home language/s!

Parents should not worry about trying to introduce English to their children, but should speak, sing and tell stories in their own language/s as much as possible. Vocabulary and pre-literacy skills transfer over to new languages more easily when children have a strong base in their home language. If someone tells parents that children will get “confused” or their acquisition of English will be delayed, they are wrong!

2National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. "BrainWonders & Sharing Books with Babies." 2003. Available at

3Spock, Benjamin, and Steven Parker. Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care Section IV: Learning and Schooling, Revised and Updated 9th ed. New York: Pocket, 2011.

What you can do at home: reading with 0-3 year olds
[The material in this and the following sections is based heavily on two sources available on line: The “Room to Grow” blog by T. Wright at Early Literacy Counts; and the “Zero to Three” website created by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, especially the document "BrainWonders & Sharing Books with Babies." 2003. Available at Zero to Three.]

The benefits of reading to your baby/toddler/child
  • Babies who are read to are more likely to grow up with a love of reading.
  • Reading has been shown to significantly stimulate brain development. Infants, for example, learn to listen to and comprehend language while being read to.
  • Babies learn literacy fundamentals such as: associating pictures with words, turning pages in a book, holding a book the "right" way, etc.
  • Babies begin to learn the significance of various tones of voice when parents read with expression.
  • Reading exposes all children to new vocabulary and concepts.
  • By reading you give your child the opportunity to learn how words come together in interesting sentences.
  • Reading to your child builds their attention span, listening skills, and memory.
  • Children are exposed to literacy concepts such as rhyme, rhythm, and repetition.
  • Children's knowledge of the world around them is increased when parents and teachers choose books that include relevant text and engaging illustrations.
  • Reading is a bonding experience for the child and parent, a joyful interaction that brings books to life for children. It is not only for babies: being read to by parents or caregivers is a powerful experience for children throughout the elementary school years.
  • Children develop a positive relationship with books and see that their parents value books and learning as well.
Ways to Share Books with Infants and Toddlers Remember you do not need many books to share with your child, although it is recommended that households have at least 10 books on a variety of subjects. Your local library is a great place to get books. The most important part of sharing books with your child is the time and interaction you dedicate to him or her. Find you local NYC public library branch here: NYPL.ORG (in English).

Ways to Share Books with Older Children Even older children like to be read to. Many value it as important time spent one-on-one with their parents. However, children as young as three years old can memorize a story, and many children love to show their creativity and skills by reading to their parents!

Make Sharing Books Part of Every Day Read or share stories at bedtime or on the bus or subway.

Have Fun Children can learn from you that books are fun, which is an important ingredient in learning to read.

A Few Minutes is OK—Don't Worry if You Don't Finish the Story Young children can only sit for a few minutes for a story, but as they grow, they will be able to sit longer.

Talk or Sing about the Pictures You do not have to read the words to tell a story.

Let Children Turn the Pages Babies need help turning pages, but a three-year-old can do it alone. Remember, it's OK to skip pages!

Show Children the Cover Explain what the story is about, or imagine what it is about before you read it (“Do you think this story will be about animals? People? Let’s find out!”).

Show Children the Words Run your finger along the words as you read them.

Make the Story Come Alive Create voices for the story characters and use your body to tell the story.

Make It Personal Talk about your own family, pets, or community when you are reading about others in a story.

Ask Questions about the Story, and Let Children Ask Questions, too!
 Use the story to engage in conversation and to talk about familiar activities and objects.

Make Connections If you read a book about dogs and on your walk to the park you see a dog, point out the dog so your child will begin to make the connection between what you are reading and real life.
What to Look for in Books for 0-3 Year Olds
Infants 0-6 months
  • Books with simple, large pictures or designs with bright colors
  • Stiff cardboard, "chunky" books, or fold out books that can be propped up
  • Cloth and soft vinyl books with simple pictures of people or familiar objects that can go in the bath or get washed
Infants 6-12 months
  • Board books with photos of other babies
  • Brightly colored "chunky" board books to touch
and taste!
  • Books with photos of familiar objects like balls and bottles
  • Books with sturdy pages that can be propped up or spread out; plastic/vinyl books for bath time
  • Washable cloth books to cuddle and mouth
  • Small plastic photo albums of family and friends
Young Toddlers 12-24 months
  • Sturdy board books that they can carry

  • Books with photos of children doing familiar things like sleeping or playing
  • Goodnight books for bed time
  • Books about saying hello and good-bye
  • Books with only a few words on each page
  • Books with simple rhymes or predictable text
  • Animal books of all sizes and shapes
Toddlers 2-3 years
  • Books that tell simple stories
  • Simple rhyming books that they can memorize
  • Bed time books
  • Books about counting, the alphabet, shapes, or sizes
  • Animal books, vehicle books, books about play-time
  • Books with their favorite TV characters inside
  • Books about saying hello and good-bye
What you can do at home: other activities with 0-3 year olds
There is no need to go out of the way to create activities. Almost every activity you already do can be a learning opportunity for your child. Here are a few suggestions and examples:
Talking to directly to babies—even though they can’t ‘talk’ back—is fundamental to language development. Describe the world around them. Talk about what is happening and what you are doing.
  • Tell your baby what you are doing before you do it. "I'm going to change your diaper now." Soon your baby will know what you mean and be able to respond when you say those words!
  • Name body parts. This is easy to do during bath time or diaper change time.
  • Converse with to your child. When babies coo and babble, adults should pause (waiting until the baby is "done" in the same manner you would wait for someone to finish a sentence) and then respond with a comment or sentence of your own. This helps babies understand the pattern of a conversation.
  • Sing and dance. Babies learn patterns of speech through music.
  • Make up songs with your baby's name in them. For example, sing, "This is the way we change your early in the morning."
  • Recite nursery rhymes. Children naturally respond to rhythm and rhymes.
  • Tell stories without a book. The good thing about made-up stories is that you can make them up as you go along. Babies usually find the voice of a caregiver calming and soothing. Older infants and toddlers will be able to recognize some of the words in your story and develop their own images in their mind!
  • Go for a walk and narrate the world. Look at the world around you! Name objects in the environment. Remember that for an infant, almost everything is exciting and new.
  • Give babies rattles and mobiles. Infants are beginning to develop eye-tracking skills. Giving them rattles or mobiles to track encourages eye movement, which will help them follow words and pictures in a book.
  • Name body parts. This is easy to do during bath time or diaper change time.
  • Play peek-a-boo. Action and reaction games are an important part of cognitive (thought) development.
  • Blow bubbles. Blow bubbles for a baby to watch - this increases their ability to track objects. Older infants or toddlers can try to blow bubbles on their own.
  • Play with water. Water is soothing and a great sensory experience for children. Babies need sensory experiences - these types of activities promote brain development. But never leave you child unattended around baths, sinks, buckets or other ‘pools’ of water.
  • Play with empty boxes. Empty boxes encourage creativity and thinking skills. Infants can crawl through large boxes or stack smaller ones.
  • Build with blocks. Babies learn about spatial relationships and problem solving when they play with blocks. These skills are directly related to reading and comprehension.
  • Expose Baby to various textures. Sensory activities (touching/feeling) are shown to have a positive impact on brain development.
  • Fun with Food! Give babies food that challenges them to develop motor (movement) skills such as dry cereal pieces, slivers of fruit, tortillas, and other pieces of food (when properly supervised).
  • Dump and fill.Give babies a large bin or basket for their toys. Encourage them to fill the bin and dump it. They probably won't need much encouragement since babies do this naturally! Babies will learn concepts such as in/out, up/down, clean/messy. The key is having an adult close by to help introduce and reinforce these concepts.
  • Put on a puppet show.Puppets provide another fun and interesting way to engage in vocabulary building and language experiences!
  • Rotate toys. When babies stop showing interest in toys, put them away and bring out something previously put away.
  • Play ball.Playing ball and other physical activities improve motor coordination.
  • Fingerpaint. Exposing older infants to textures and colors increases brain activity!
  • Don't underestimate the power of touch. Touch is a necessary part of bonding with a baby. Some research shows that touch promotes brain development, physical growth, and emotional development. Cuddle with your baby.
  • Smile and make eye contact! It sounds simple, but sometimes we forget the importance of smiling. Research shows that babies respond to facial expressions! Babies also bond and connect with friendly faces.
Building Literacy through Music
Music is a universal language that promotes reading, creativity and comprehension. Through music children learn to experiment with rhythm, words, tempo, and melody. One of the most valuable skills children learn from music is the ability to listen. 4

4 Darrow, A. (2008). Music and Literacy. General Music Today, 21(2), 32-34.

  • Sing and dance. Babies learn patterns of speech through music.
  • Make up songs with your baby's name in them. For example, sing, "This is the way we change your early in the morning."
  • Recite nursery rhymes.Children naturally respond to rhythm and rhymes.
  • Give your child instruments. Let them experiment with the sounds of different instruments
  • Expose children to a variety of music from a young age. Different music has different tempos and rhythms so exposure to all genres of music, according to some experts, helps brain development.
  • Recognize the effect music has on children’s behavior. Different genres of music played at the right time of day can have different effects—calming, energizing, exciting, relaxing. Don’t be afraid to vary the types of music around babies, but be aware of the influence of music on their activities and moods.
  • Do not use music as background “filler” all the time. Sometimes it’s ok to just let children hear their own chatter and their own thoughts. Music should catch their attention rather than just be part of the background.
Building Confidence in your Child
  • Be consistent and predictable. Babies thrive on routine. Knowing what will happen next helps their emotional, social, and cognitive development.
  • Respond to baby's cries. Babies develop a close bond with those who respond to their needs and distress calls. Bonding makes babies feel safe, and this type of relationship fosters positive brain development. 5

    5 Spock, Benjamin, and Steven Parker. Dr. Spock's Baby and Child., Revised and Updated 9th ed. New York: Pocket, 2011.

Early Intervention (“Intervención Temprana”): if you think your child is not developing the way he or she should be
NYC’s Early Intervention Program identifies developmental delays in children from birth to the age of three. After a child is evaluated and found eligible for the Program, a team of professionals works with the family to create a service plan that meets their needs. All programs are created to meet the individual needs of each child. To help children achieve their developmental potential and meet developmental milestones, professionals often work with families in their homes. Using daily activities, they teach parents how to make daily routines and activities learning opportunities. The goal of the program is to empower families to have the skills and knowledge to help their child develop their potential. The program free and available to all New York families regardless of race, ethnicity, income or immigration status.

To request Early Intervention services, or an evaluation of your child, call 311. Additional information can be found at:
NYC.GOV Parent Brochure PDF
NYC.GOV Parent Brochure PDF

If a child has been evaluated for EI but is not found eligible, the family may enroll in the Early Intervention Developmental Monitoring Program at no cost. For more information on Developmental Monitoring click here (NYC.GOV Monotoring)
Public Programs Available for Toddlers and Infants in NYC
Early Head Start and Head Start
Age Availability
Early Head Start is for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Head Start is for children ages 3-5.
What is it?
Early Head Start and Head Start are federally funded community-based programs for low-income families with infants and/or toddlers, and for pregnant women. New York’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs focus on the well being of the child through educational, health, nutritional, and social services. Parents and family members play an important role in the programs. They are encouraged to be the first and most important educators of their children. Children in the programs are exposed to a multi-cultural environment that provides pre-literacy and literacy experiences and promotes school readiness. Children with disabilities are also welcome at Head Start, and additional programs are often available for parents and other family members.
Head Start is free for eligible low-income families regardless of documentation/immigration status. In order to enroll in Head Start families must meet certain income requirements. Parents can call to find a local center, see if there is space available, and discuss the paperwork they may need to provide. Usually, they will need:
Proof of income (if they get paid cash a notarized letter can be used to prove income)
Child's Birth Certificate
Child's immunization Card
Proof of Residence
Proof of Health Insurance
If these documents are not available, parents should ask what alternatives they can provide to otherwise meet requirements.

For more detailed information on the services provided by Head Start and to find a center call 212-232-0966 or visit the webpage (in English and Spanish): NYC.GOV Head Start

Early Head Start and Head Start
Age Availability
Birth to five years
What is it?
Certain Head Start and child care providers are part of the EarlyLearn NYC program, which according to the Administration for Child Services "is an innovative, high-quality early education program" both for low and moderate income families. Parents have the option of choosing the type of care their child will receive. Experienced teachers and caregivers who offer social, emotional, and educational instruction will care for children in this program. Free daily nutritious meals are available to the children in this program.

For more information on Early Learn programs and to find a provider, visit: NYC.GOV Child Care

Parent Child Home Program (PCHP)
16 months to 4 years
What is it?
PCHP programs provide home-based services to low-income and especially immigrant families, who live in isolation, have limited educational opportunities, experience language and literacy barriers that prevent healthy child development and educational success. The two-year long program consists of 30-minute weekly home visitations, two days a week. Each week PCHP sends an early literacy specialist to the home who is bilingual and bicultural (in families’ native languages and cultures). At each visit families are provided with a high-quality book or educational toy that is a gift to the family. Using the book or toy, the literacy specialist models reading, conversation, and play activities designed to stimulate parent-child interaction, develop language and literacy skills, and build school readiness. PCHP early literacy specialists are also able to connect families to other community resources including food, housing, medical, and educational services. Upon completion of the program, all families are assisted in enrolling their children in a high-quality, center-based preschool program.

PCHP is offered by various organizations. Find a center near you go to:

Child Care (not the same as Head Start!)
Child Care
Quality child care allows children to play in a stimulating and nurturing environment. To keep children safe and healthy while they are in a provider’s care, the government licenses and regulates child care facilities and inspects them regularly.

In order for a family to receive help paying for child care services, the family must meet specific financial and social eligibility criteria that are determined by federal, state, and local regulations. To find out if your family is eligible you need to talk with someone from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). Call 311 or visit 311 online’s Child Care Financial Assistance finder: NYC.GOV Provider Information

To learn about Different Types of Child Care
NYC.GOV Child Care

To find a list of child care providers licensed by the NYC Department of Health
NYC.GOV Child Care

To use an online tool to see if you qualify for a child care subsidy (in English):
NYC.GOV Child Care Eligibility
Places you can visit with your infant and toddler
Free infant and toddler programs are often available at your local public library! To find your local library and programs available (will need to refine search based on your child’s age and location): NYPL.ORG Calendar (in English)

To find a list of free programs and places to visit from (museums, zoos and gardens, entertainment, etc.): NYCGO.COM Free for Kids (in English)

To find programs at the YMCA (an organization which sometimes offers financial assistance—check with individual branches for more information): YMCANYC.ORG Programs (in English)

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