Read, Baby, Read is a Free Library initiative focused on encouraging early literacy development among infants and young toddlers under two years old. We work with 17 participating libraries across Philadelphia to reach caregivers of all ages, providing resources that support early literacy skills, language development, and purposeful play. You can find early literacy tips and resources on our Instagram page @read.baby.read!
In this series, we bring you fun activity ideas with a theme based on the five early literacy practices from Every Child Ready To Read: Read, Sing, Write, Play, and Talk! So far, we’ve explored vehicles, animals, the body, water, food, shapes, feelings, nature, colors, numbers, music, and babies!
This month is all about bedtime!
Reading a book before bedtime is a great way to create a routine. Any book works for a nightly read, but here are some board books specifically about sleeping. All of these are available in the Free Library’s catalog, where you can place holds online for free to pick up at your nearest branch.
- Dinosnores by Sandra Boynton: This silly book about some loud prehistoric sleepers is just one of many bedtime offerings from author Sandra Boynton. Others include Silly Lullaby, Pajama Time, Snoozers, The Going To Bed Book, and Night-Night, Little Pookie.
- Global Baby Bedtimes by Maya Ajmera: Babies love to look at pictures of other babies, so they’ll love this book filled with photographs of sleeping babies all over the world.
- Time For Bed by Mem Fox: Say goodnight to different animals in this rhyming book (also available in Spanish). Learning the terms for baby animals helps children expand their vocabulary and teaches them that sometimes more specific words can be used for similar things.
- Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann: This wordless book about an unobservant zookeeper gives you the opportunity to discuss the pictures and even make up your own story.
- Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker: Is your child obsessed with trucks? They’ll enjoy this construction themed bedtime story. Also check out the Steam Train, Dream Train series by the same author.
- Baby Night-Night by Kate Merritt: This “Indestructible” book about bedtime routines is tear proof, chew proof, washable, and non-toxic, making it the perfect choice for a hands-on baby.
You can find even more bedtime stories on the Free Library community book list, “Bedtime Books.”
Lullabies are a great option for singing at bedtime! In addition to helping your little one fall asleep, lullabies stimulate brain development and promote bonding between you and your baby. “Hush Little Baby” and “Rockabye Baby” are both classics for a reason. You can find more interactive lullabies on Jbrary’s Lullaby themed YouTube playlist, which is filled with soothing finger play and rocking songs. Singing the same song every night can help signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. You can also borrow CDs filled with lullabies from the Free Library to listen to with your baby, including slowed-down, gentle versions of your favorite rock and pop tunes. Or perhaps try singing your favorite song in a soothing, comforting way – babies and toddlers love the sound of your voice most of all! Consider adding songs to your bedtime routine as well. For instance, there are lots of songs you can sing during diaper changing and bathtime.
While you probably won’t be starting a complicated art project at bedtime, there are many simple ways to incorporate “writing” and art into your nightly routine (for instance, did you know you can make paint out of toothpaste or bubble bath?). If your child takes a bath before bed, use that as a time to introduce literacy activities. Turn bath time into an art activity by making paint with shaving cream or baby shampoo. You can even create your own bath crayons! Or simply rub some bubbles on the tiled wall and let your child “write” with their finger. It may not look like anything to you yet, but the marks they make with their fingers are an important prewriting skill. Cut some sponges into shapes and throw those in the bath as toys. Learning about shapes is the first step toward later learning about letters, since all letters are just made up of shapes. Plus grasping these sponges (or other toys) with their hands helps children develop fine motor skills, which they’ll eventually need for writing.
Choose play activities before bedtime that are soothing and will help your child wind down before it’s time to sleep. Baby yoga is an excellent choice! There are videos and board books that teach baby-friendly yoga poses, including You Are A Lion! by Taeeun Yoo, Sleepy Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford, and Yoga Baby by Amy Hovey. Baby massage is another calming activity that will relax your baby before bed. There are also lots of fun games you can play before bedtime. Puzzles are a great option because they keep your hands busy while allowing your mind to relax. Try making your own shape sorter puzzle out of cardboard! Sensory play is an ideal wind down activity as well. Something simple like play dough works well – your child will be relaxing by sitting down while exploring and experiencing the texture of the dough. Or try a soothing sensory bin activity, like a lavender rice sensory tub. Finally, dramatic play that involves putting baby dolls or stuffed animals “to sleep” helps your child prepare for their upcoming bedtime routine by playing out these rituals with a doll. Children make sense of their own world by play-acting with toys.
Having a bedtime ritual is a helpful way to get your baby prepared for sleep, since routines are useful for kids – routines are comforting and allow children to understand and prepare for what comes next. Talking about your routine as you go through the steps helps set expectations and extend learning. For instance, while changing your baby’s diaper you could describe what you’re doing: “Right now I am rubbing some diaper cream on your skin. Then I am going to put on a new, clean diaper!” Narrating your actions to your baby is sometimes called “sportscasting,” and it’s a great opportunity for babies to learn new words. This works for feelings, too. If your child is resisting bedtime, talk them through their emotions by putting their feelings into words.
Before bedtime is also a nice time to talk about your day and recap what happened today. While babies won’t yet be able to respond, it establishes a tradition that this is a time to decompress and reflect. As they get a little older, this “pillow talk” will be an important part of their day where they can voice their worries and alleviate stress before they drift off to sleep.
Read Baby Read’s team includes Early Childhood Specialists, Sarah Jacknis and Grace Foster, and Program Coordinator, Kimberly Garrison. Read Baby, Read is made possible by a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation.