Developmentally appropriate books refer to books that match the child's age, learning level and interest level. While developmental level and interest vary from child to child, there are some generalizations that work for specific age groups. Parents can use these generalizations to choose books that are developmentally appropriate.
Learning By Level
Infants, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary schoolers all need to learn different things from books. Infants and young toddlers are simply getting into the habit of reading as a fun activity. Older toddlers can use books to learn basic concepts like colors and letters. Preschoolers can use books for concepts and for getting involved in the story, building on the skills they've already mastered. For elementary school students, those good stories should improve vocabulary and comprehension skills. When looking for a developmentally appropriate book, parents should first think about the child's age.
Next, parents need to look at the style of book. Board books, with their hard pages made to withstand chewing, are perfect for infants and young toddlers. Once children stop chewing on everything in sight, they are ready for books with paper pages. But paper books that require participation, like "lift the flap" books, are more appropriate for preschoolers than for 9-year-olds. Picture books can be appropriate for any age, depending on the complexity of the language and story. Patricia Polacco, for example, writes picture books that are appropriate for upper elementary students. As for books without pictures, those aren't really appropriate for anyone younger than first grade.
There aren't really too many hard and fast rules about developmentally appropriate subjects for children's books. There are dinosaur board books, picture books and chapter books, for example. However, the younger a child is, the more connected the book should be to her life. While the board book might show pictures of stuffed dinosaurs that the young toddler could see at the toy store, the chapter book might be about kids traveling back to the time of the dinosaurs.
The key to developmentally appropriate books should ultimately be how much the child enjoys the book. If your 3-year-old is so into trains that he'll happily listen to a four page description of how a steam engine works, then that book is appropriate for him. Parents can keep a record of books their child really likes and then search out more books by that author. Some authors very popular with younger children include Eric Carle, Mo Willems, Dr. Seuss, Tana Hoban and Nancy Carlson.
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images