In this post: There are so many considerations when building your first baby bookshelf! What kind of shelf is appropriate and for what ages? What kind of setup will entice my child to read books? Here are 9 tips that help you think through your own setup - along with some pictures of others for inspiration!
Table of contents:
- Tip 1-2 | Picking your baby’s bookshelf
- Tip 3-7 | Arranging your baby’s bookshelf
- Tip 8-9 | Alternatives for baby bookshelves
A favorite: I have loved including a few books from Habbi Habbi! They are colorful and so durable. Any of the word books are great for babies and toddlers!
Picking a bookshelf for your baby or toddler
Tip 1: Choose a low-set shelf
When deciding what shelf to use, first and foremost, we want to choose ones that a baby can safely interact with. This is particularly important for when babies become more mobile.
Keeping your baby’s books on a low standing bookshelf is practical both in terms of safety and use. Short and wide furniture is much less likely to tip compared to tall and narrow furniture, like classic bookshelves. And as our little ones grow and interact with the bookshelf, they are less likely to tip it over.
And that’s exactly what we want - our babies to use their bookshelves! When it is short and low to the ground, they can reach what is on the shelf. When a baby can reach something, it’s all but a guarantee they will grab it (at least if your baby is anything like mine was!). And the more your baby can grab things and books they like, the more they will engage with them.
Tip 2: Consider a front-facing shelf
We also want to think about what will catch a little one’s attention to encourage them to come to the shelf. Have you noticed the racks at check-out likes hold front-facing magazines? There are children’s bookshelf units that are similar, allowing the book cover to face outward. Covers are so much more bright and colorful than spines, and the more it will catch their attention.
Books also tend to be a bit easier to pull out of a front-facing bookshelf as well, since there is more space to grip the book. Little hands are not as strong nor developed. So, this can help avoid those little hands accidentally (or purposefully) pulling all the books on the shelf out with just one or two swipes.
Left: Claire at “The green eyed girl”; Right: MamaSimplified
Arranging your baby’s bookshelf or reading area
As we put books on our baby’s bookshelves, we want to consider both visibility, accessibility, and interest. Ideally, our little ones should be able to easily see and grab (as they get more mobile). These four tips will help make your bookshelf an enticing and interesting spot to nurture the love of reading!
Tip 3: Keep books eye-level
This goes hand-in-hand with our low bookshelf. With a low bookshelf, this tip is easy because there aren’t any high shelves that are out of your baby’s sight! It’s like that old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” If we can keep books in our babies’ sight frequently, they’re going to be on their mind a lot more often.
Teacher’s Tip: Baby’s eye-level is everywhere from the floor to their height. Use that floor space! Books are great tools for tummy time, whether you lay them out flat and read together or prop them up. Keep books displayed on the floor around your bookshelf so that even the smallest of babies can see and engage with their books.
Tip 4: Display book covers
Of course, the covers of books are more attractive than the spines of books and much easier to see. When possible, we want them to face outward so that our babies and toddlers can more easily interact with their books and bookshelves.
If you have a front-facing bookshelf, the shelf will already hold books so that the covers face outward for your baby to easily see. If you do not though, there are other ways you can achieve this. You can stand books up, front facing on shelves. We also like to keep baskets of books, which make it easy to manage small stacks of books and flip through to see the covers.
Teacher’s Tip: Next to the books you show cover out, try adding a small related toy or game. For example, next to a book about vehicles, you could put a toy truck. This is one more way to attract your baby’s attention to the bookshelf and books. It also gives them a physical object to interact with and reinforce the concepts from the book.
Left: @hola.montessori; Right: Cassie Scroggins
Tip 5: Avoid overfilling your baby’s bookshelf
Though I believe we can never have too many books, we try not to put too much on our shelves. When shelves are too full, it can be overwhelming to see what all is available for play. It can also be tiresome, because the view is the same everyday.
I try to remember that the objective of my shelf is to entice, bring in, and nurture joy for my little one - versus - act as a storage of all my books! If you have more books than you can fit comfortably onto your baby’s bookshelf, you can consider rotating books in (read more below).
Teacher’s Tip: I consider my shelf “display” and “feature” books. And I use bins for other storage, to help keep toys, games, or other objects neatly stacked near it. This keeps the area tidy and prevents clutter, while keeping them close for access, clean-up, and rotation.
Tip 6: Rotate books
We love rotating and switching out books periodically. This helps with several goals - not overfilling our baby’s bookshelf, providing new visual interest, and also introducing concepts or books that we as parents might want to “suggest” to our little ones.
Every family has a different routine. For me, I replace the covers that are face forward every couple of weeks (my “feature” books). And then every couple of months, I will also replace the “stack” of books that is sitting in the baskets and bins next to our bookshelf.
Teacher’s Tip: You can rotate books in a variety of ways. For example, as the seasons change, you could include books about the relevant season. You can also rotate through different topics of interest, like animals or music. Try to observe which books your baby seems most interested in and build your rotations around those favorite books and others that are similar in subject or style.
Tip 7: Add comfortable spaces to sit or lie down
Last but certainly not least, you want to make the area around your baby’s bookshelf comfortable for sitting, lying, or snuggling. Consider a cozy rug or pillow and blanket on the floor, a big squishy stuffed animal to snuggle, or toddler-sized furniture nearby.
It also helps because they consider it “their” space - and see it as a dedicated spot for their dedicated activity. This helps nurture both love and habits.
Teacher’s Tip: Make sure the space is comfortable not only for your little one but for you as well! You will be spending time there too!
Left: Natural Beach Living; Right: @amomooui (Instagram)
What if I don’t have the “right” bookshelf?
What if you don’t have a low and/or front-facing shelf? Or you have more books then can fit on the shelves you do have? No problem! There are other ways to store books.
Tip 8: Minimalist Shelving
Whatever reason you may not have enough bookshelf space, you can use other storage solutions! For example, you can stack crates, fill baskets, and I have even seen spice rack hacks. These options can be cost-efficient, space-saving, and even have the added benefit of mobility.
Teacher’s Tip: I like to use baskets as a way to organize books by topic, language, or type. For example, I can have a basket of books in Spanish, a basket of sound books, and a basket of books about the human body since that has been a topic of high interest for our family lately.
Tip 9: Use what you have
Ultimately, any space you have to store books will serve the purpose! As long as your baby can see and access their books, then it will do.
A standard bookshelf works just fine, and can even be useful for book rotation; you and baby can read the books at the bottom shelves and after some time, easily switch them out for the books that are on the top shelves. Or if the shelf is tall and skinny, maybe you could set it on its side to make it a wide low shelf. Think about how you can repurpose your current shelving rather than buy new.
Teacher’s Tip: You can even get away with no shelf: small stacks of a few books on the floor are also okay! Especially when reading frequently, little piles are very convenient for babies to flip through. It’s also easy to tidy back up.
Left: Sarah of “Little Learning Corner”; Right: Damaris Rivera via Pinterest
If you liked this, you may also appreciate the following articles about children’s books:
Check out more bilingual resources from Habbi Habbi
We have lots more (fun stuff!) here at Habbi Habbi. You can explore our free resources such as bilingual printables, resource blog, and audiobooks. Of course, we also have our much loved magical Reading Wand, bilingual books, puzzles & flashcards. Our tools are currently available in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Korean, and Hindi.
Kelly is an English-Spanish bilingual parent raising an English-Spanish-Mandarin trilingual child with her English-Mandarin bilingual spouse. She has a passion for education and literacy and language development, with a Master’s Degree in Reading Development and experience as both an English-only and Spanish-English dual language Kindergarten teacher. Nowadays, she stays home with her daughter and enjoys playing video games when there’s a bit of spare time.