Reading To Baby

Posted on 21 February 2007

Reading to Baby

Jacob loves books. His mom knows this because when she sits down to read to him every night, he waves his arms excitedly.

His favorite page of "Goodnight Moon" shows a cow jumping over the moon. He squeals and reaches for the book every time he sees it. When she is done reading, his mom usually lets him hold the sturdy board book, which he promptly sticks into his mouth.

Jacob is only 6 months old, but he is already well on his way to becoming a reader.

Why Read to My Baby?
You may wonder what the benefits of reading to your baby are. Clearly he or she can't understand what you are doing or why. But would you wait until your child could understand what you were saying before you started speaking to him or her? No. And you wouldn't bypass lullabies until your baby could carry a tune or wait until he or she could shake a rattle before you offered any toys.

At birth, a baby's brain can do a lot, especially stuff to keep the body running properly, but it isn't fully developed. The more the senses are stimulated, the more quickly the rest of a baby's brain will develop. So reading aloud to your baby is a wonderful shared activity you can continue for years to come - and it's an important form of stimulation.

Reading aloud:

  • teaches your baby about communication
  • introduces concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes in a fun way
  • builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills
  • gives babies information about the world around them

Believe it or not, by the time your baby is 1, he or she will have learned all the sounds needed to speak your native language. The more stories you read aloud, the more words your child will be exposed to and the better he or she will be able to talk. Hearing words helps to imprint them on a baby's brain.

When reading, your child hears you using many different emotions and expressive sounds, which fosters communication and emotional development. Reading also invites your baby to look, point, touch, and answer questions - all of which promote social development. And your baby develops thinking skills by imitating sounds or repetitive words and recognizing images.

But perhaps the most important reason to read aloud is that you are helping make a connection between the things your baby loves the most - your voice and closeness to you - and books. Spending time reading to your baby shows that reading is a skill worth learning.

Different Ages, Different Stages
Very young babies may not know what the images in a book mean, but they are still able to focus on them, especially on black and white patterns. A newborn looking at a book is taking the first step toward picture recognition, which is an important skill for reading.

Between 4 and 6 months, your baby may begin to show focused interest in books, especially those with bright colors and repetitive or rhyming text. He or she probably still doesn't understand what the pictures are, but again, you are preparing your baby to learn to read.

After 6 months, your child is beginning to understand that pictures represent objects, and mostly likely will develop preferences for certain pictures, pages, or even entire stories. Your baby will respond while you read, grabbing for the book and cooing, and by 12 months will turn pages for you, point to objects on a page, and maybe even say "moo!" when you point to a cow.

When and How to Read
Here's the really beautiful thing about reading aloud: It doesn't take special skills or equipment, just you, your baby, and some books. Read aloud for a few minutes at a time, but do it often. Don't worry about finishing entire books - focus on pages that you and your baby enjoy.

Try to set aside time to read every day - perhaps before naptime and bedtime. In addition to the pleasure that cuddling your baby before bed gives both of you, you'll also be making life easier by establishing a routine. This will help to calm your baby and set expectations about when it's time to sleep.

It's also good to read at other points in the day. Choose when your baby is dry, fed, and alert. Books also come in handy when you are stuck waiting, so have some in the diaper bag to fill time sitting at the doctor's office or standing in line at the grocery store.

Here are some additional reading tips:

  • Cuddle your baby while you read to help him or her feel safe, warm, and connected to you.
  • Read with expression, pitching your voice higher or lower where it's appropriate or using different voices for different characters.
  • Don't worry about following the text exactly. Stop once in a while and ask questions or make comments on the pictures or text. ("Where's the kitty? There he is! What a cute black kitty.") Your child might not be able to respond yet, but this lays the groundwork for doing so later on.
  • Sing nursery rhymes, make funny animal sounds, or bounce your baby on your knee - anything that shows that reading is fun.
  • Babies love - and learn from - repetition, so don't be afraid of reading the same books over and over. When you do so, repeat the same emphasis each time as you would with a familiar song.
  • As your baby gets older, encourage him or her to touch the book or even to hold sturdier board books. You don't want to encourage chewing on books, but by putting them in his or her mouth, your baby is learning about them, finding out how books feel and taste - and discovering that they're not edible!

What to Read
Books for babies should have simple, repetitive text and clear images. Your newborn just likes to hear your voice, so you can read almost anything, especially books with a sing-song or rhyming text. As your baby gets more interested in looking at things, choose books with simple pictures against solid backgrounds.

Once your baby begins to grab, read thick board books with bright colors. When your baby begins to respond to what's inside of books, add board books with pictures of babies or familiar objects like toys. When your child begins to do things like sit up in the bathtub or eat finger foods, find simple stories about daily routines like bedtime or bathtime. When talking starts, choose books that invite him or her to repeat simple words or phrases.

Books with mirrors and different textures (crinkly, soft, scratchy) are also great for this age group, as are fold-out books that can be propped up, or vinyl or cloth books that can go everywhere - even the tub. Babies of any age like photo albums with pictures of people they know and love. And every baby should have a collection of nursery rhymes!

One of the best ways you can ensure that your child grows up to be a reader is to have books around your house. When your baby is old enough to crawl over to a basket of toys and pick one out, make sure some books are included in the mix.

In addition to the books you own, take advantage of those you can borrow from the library. Many libraries have storytime just for babies too. Don't forget to pick up a book for yourself while you're there. Reading for pleasure is another way you can be your baby's reading role model.

Reviewed by: Barbara P. Homeier, MD
Source: KidsHealth

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