Invaluable…Valuable beyond calculable estimation… Priceless… That is the gift you give your child when you begin reading to them the moment they are born.
Numerous articles can be found on the importance and value to your child if you begin reading to them from the minute they are born (or even before!). You may think, “babies don’t do anything and don’t understand, so how can this be important?”. But it is! Research has indicated that there is a direct link between how many words a baby hears each day and their language skills. Babies who are spoken to and hear many words scored higher on standard tests when they reached age 3 than children who did not have this benefit.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to read to their children from birth to help brain development and build early language. They state, “Reading regularly with young children stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and strengthens parent-child relationships at a critical time in child development, which, in turn, builds language, literacy and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime.” The AAP also shares that “reading proficiency by the third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success”.
Why it is Important to Read to Your Baby often, from newborn and beyond
Here is a quick list that will make you want to rush to the library or pull out all the children’s books you own, snuggle up and start reading with a ferocious appetite!
- Reading teaches communication. Reading demonstrates the development of speech patterns, learning the range of emotions (conveying ideas that words and sounds have different meanings), learning sounds of language and how they fit together, identifying the connections between sounds and objects, etc. Different emotions and expressive sounds fosters social and emotional development as well as thinking skills as children look at, point to , touch and answer questions about the book being read. Imitation of sounds, recognizing pictures and learning words improves the child’s language skills.
- Reading builds skills in listening, memory and attention.
- Reading boosts and builds brain power. Reading introduces cognitive learning that builds a strong foundation upon which to build, learn and grow. i.e. numbers, letters, colors, shapes, animals, people, etc. Children who are read to early and often have a larger vocabulary and more advanced math skills than other children their age.
- Reading prepares a child to read on their own. Rhythms, tones and inflections in the voice are learned from listening. Kenneth Wible, MD of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO sites research that indicates that the more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared they will be to start reading on their own.
5 Read provides information about the child’s world. Reading allows a child to see and hear about the world around them.
- As children listen to rhythmic movement of the reader’s voice, they will often show a physical response. This response may be verbal or movement of their arms and legs.
Watch the video clip below of a three month old baby who has been read a minimum of seven books a day since birth. Notice how the child intently looks at the pictures in the book while vocalizing. There is expression in the child’s “reading”! Then, the child stops and looks at the involved parent, waiting for the parent to take a turn reading. When the parent is finished and turns the page, the infant again looks at the pictures and begins to vocalize. This child has already established foundational communication skills at just three months! This truly is a remarkable example of the benefits of reading to children early and often!
- Reading provides an intimate connection and special bond between parent and child. Babies love the sound of their parent’s voice and like to be close to them. Once you start the habit of reading you won’t want to miss this time with your child. It will become a protected time together that is rarely missed!
- Reading as a regular part of your daily schedule reinforces that reading is fun, enjoyable and an activity to value! This love and enjoyment of reading will carry through for the school years, developing a positive attitude, which in turn will produce better learners who succeed in school.
When my son was young he would rush into the house with a treasure he had found (a bird’s nest, egg, toad stool, insect, etc). He would clutch his latest find carefully in his little hands as he rushed through the house yelling, “Mom! Look what I found! Do we have a book about this?” Then we would proceed to research his find. We both learned a lot from those reading excursions! We would have a wonderful time spent together storing up precious memories.
Progression of Stages
Newborn and young babies may not yet recognize pictures in the books, but they can practice focusing their eyes. Faces, bright colors and contrasting patterns are good to provided at this age. You can comfort and entertain young babies with nursery rhymes or reading and singing lullabies.
4 to 6 month old babies will start noticing the books you read with more interest. Grabbing, holding, chewing (This is one way in which a baby learns. Infants use all their senses to gather information.) and dropping are favorite responses. It is important to provide plastic, cloth or board books that cannot be easily damaged. Bright colors and rhyming, along with a repetitive text, featuring simple patterns will be a favorite.
The older infant is now understanding that pictures represent objects. Preferences will appear as their personality develops. Babies will respond by making sounds, repeating your sounds, pointing to pictures on a page, trying to turn pages alone and grabbing the book as you read.
Visual: This 8 month old baby (who has been read multiple books a day since birth) is independently “reading”, focusing on the pictures and turning the pages during her free play time.
- Read often. Read every day! Even multiple times during the day. Set a set time in your daily routine to always have a reading session! Maybe before naptime and bedtime, during bath time, after eating a meal, etc.
- During all of your child’s infant stages you may not get through an entire story in one sitting. This is ok. Just keep having reading sessions, reading aloud for a few minutes at a time, but reading often! Focus on the pages that bring enjoyment instead of worrying about finishing the entire book.
- Remember the cuddling! Cuddling helps your baby feel connected to you and provides a feeling of safety and warmth. Not to mention, this special time together builds wonderful memories.
Types of Books
The younger the baby the more durable and safe books need to be. Start with cloth, vinyl and plastic books (which will endure drooling and grabbing) then move up to board books as the baby becomes a little older.
Read books with simple and clear pictures with bright colors, solid backgrounds and repetitive or rhyming text. Books with mirrors and different textures and sounds will sure to be a favorite interactive activity.
Remember that photo albums of people in the baby’s life will provide great interest. Babies love to look at faces. Fill an album with grandparents, cousins, siblings, the family pet, etc. As baby looks at these faces it will help with recognition. As you point and name the people, tell stories about each person. This type of story time will add depth and richness to your time together and family ties.
Always read with exuberance, expression and silliness. Different voices for the characters, funny animal or car sounds; plus, higher and lower pitch to your voice, when appropriate, provides entertainment and fun for both you and your child. Feel free to make up a tune for the words in the book or sing favorite nursery rhymes.
Don’t worry about following the story text exactly while reading. It will be fun to even make up different stories about the pictures in the book. Personalize the book with the baby or family member’s names. Your baby won’t mind.
As you read, stop and ask questions or point to different pictures while making comments. This will lay the groundwork for two way communication in the future.
Keep books available for exploration and play. Include them in the basket of toys, keep them in the diaper bag for waits at the doctor’s office or other places. Provide books to look at while in the car seat once your child is old enough to hold the book by themselves. Keep books visible around the house and accessible.
As your child shows interest, increase the length and complexity of the books you read.
Most of all, have fun! With a good book, you can go anywhere in the world and learn about anything!