It’s a mantra you’ve heard for years: Read aloud to your children—early and often. But now it’s official. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently began urging parents to make reading a family activity starting in infancy. Of course, you don’t have to haul out the works of Shakespeare—the simpler the books are the better. Yet this new advice does seem to point to a growing awareness that significant brain development occurs in the first three years of life—and the earlier you begin this activity, the more your baby will benefit.
Why read to baby?
Reading to baby means more than just sharing pleasant moments together. It’s a time when you begin to enrich your baby’s learning as you introduce a variety of new picture books that she will grow to cherish.
At first, your baby may not understand the words you say, but soon he will anticipate—and appreciate—the tone of your voice as you read with animation. He also will begin to associate reading with learning, delight, and comfort.
Research shows that school-age children who have never experienced the deep visceral pleasure of being read to may have more trouble learning to read compared with their language-loving playmates with book-sharing experience. Infants and toddlers who weren’t read to or encouraged to relish the adventure of delving into a book to satisfy curiosity, explore new ideas, or experience the rich cadences of prose and poetry, may avoid doing homework later and their grades may suffer.
As you create a daily routine, your adorable new addition will come to view reading as a satisfying experience. She’ll love that close physical contact with you—it boosts the development of a secure emotional attachment. Also, she will look forward to your snuggle-up-with-a-book time as your special time together. An added bonus: Reading gives you and your spouse a well-deserved break from your hectic schedules. It’s a win-win situation. You get to unwind while your cuddle bear drifts off to sleep, comforted by the soothing sounds of a favorite story.
What is baby learning?
Although it’s not obvious at first, as you read with cadenced tones, your baby learns that words on the page go from left to right and that there is a word or group of words to describe each picture.
Point to the words at the end of each page—that funny looking combination of lines and squiggles. Use your finger to trace the words as you read them. Your toddler may soon memorize a rhyming text and even seem to “read” along with you as you go from word to word and from one page to another.
When your baby is developmentally ready, show her how to turn the pages one at a time—and praise her effort! The more you read the more your child will learn about objects, animals, food, and actions. By a year-and-a-half she may confidently be able to tell you that cows say moo and dogs say woof, and that children put their coats on first and mittens later. Show your little one how to handle books and treat them gently. And don’t be surprised if your cutie soon has few special books she wants you to read over and over.