Don't forget to foster the fun side of parenting - reading and playing with your little one from the start.
In his pocket-sized book, "97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh" (Workman Publishing, 2012), author Jack Moore shares ideas such as:
* Play the "little piggies going to market" game on your child's toes. The last line, "whee, whee, whee all the way home," is sure to spark giggles galore.
* With baby in his high chair, hold his hands up while you say, "How big is baby?" As you raise his arms up over his head, say, "So big!"
* Daddy pretends to be asleep on the floor, and fakes loud snoring. Each time baby touches daddy, he wakes up as if surprised.
* Fill a clean spray bottle with lukewarm water and spray baby's bare feet.
* Dampen a sponge animal, squish it in your hand, then release it to its full size in front of baby.
* Make puppets out of socks. Use the edge of a table as your theater. This one's always a baby-pleaser.
* Put one hat on you, then one hat on baby and look at yourselves in the mirror. Then switch hats.
Snuggling up with your baby to read together is entertaining, too, and needs to be part of your daily routine. Reach Out and Read is a nationwide early literacy program that works through the medical community to help teach parents about reading through pediatric well-visits. Experts at Reach Out and Read make the following suggestions for early readers:
* Reading to your 6- to 12-month-old: Small books such as "Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks From A to Z" (Random House) are just right for a baby's hands. The cardboard pages of a board book are designed to withstand the normal developmental behavior of babies, like their habit of munching down on books.
Board books filled with photos of babies, such as "Smile!" by Roberta Grobel Intrater (Scholastic), fascinate infants. Name the parts of the baby's face as you talk to your child. For example, "See the baby's nose. You have a nose, too."
* Reading to your 12- to 18-month-old: Books that introduce sounds are good choices, such as "Clifford's Animal Sounds" by Norman Bridwell (Scholastic). Ask, "What sound does the dog make?" This game reinforces language development.
The tactile board book "Hide and Peek" by Odette Ross (Scholastic) includes objects and animals familiar to your baby. You can name an object and point to the image to reinforce language development.
* Reading to your 18- to 24-month-old: In books such as "Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?" by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (Henry Holt & Co.), rhyming texts with repeated patterns increase your child's awareness of how language works. Rhymes help your child begin to decode the sounds that make up words.
* Reading to your 24- to 36-month-old: "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" by Eileen Christelow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a rhyming text that introduces numeracy skills to young children as they learn to count the monkeys. Books can be entertaining, but also can be used to establish a bedtime routine.
A choice such as "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown (Harper Collins) that uses repetitive text helps set the routine for a good night for both parents and children.
Each year, medical providers at the nearly 5,000 Reach Out and Read program sites nationwide distribute 6.5 million books to children, as well as literacy advice to parents. To learn more about the organization or to make a donation, go to reachoutandread.org.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-236-9510.