“Children are made readers at the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald
Reasons to Read to Your Baby… Not that You Need One!
Reading to your baby benefits her in several ways. It helps develop networks in her brain, helps her learn language(s), builds vocabulary and helps her communicate more effectively. Reading to and with your children provides an opportunity to bond with them. It builds their self esteem and establishes the path to a lifetime of learning.
That’s not all, though.
Parents and other grown-ups who read to children also enjoy many benefits themselves. Curling up with a book and a baby is a great way to relieve stress, get some rest, giggle a little and maybe even learn a thing or two.
When is the best time to start reading to your baby?
The short answer is–as early as you possibly can. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading to your baby everyday from the time she is about 6 months old, but, starting even earlier has its advantages. Reading to the baby in your womb or to your newborn, helps you establish a reading routine and gets your baby used to books and reading aloud by the time she’s actually ready to pay attention. Even if your child is older, it’s never too late to start reading to him. In her book Raising Bookworms, Emma Walton Hamilton stresses the importance of reading aloud to older children, even when they’ve grown into independent readers.
How to pick children’s books, what to look for.
Walk into any book store or library and the selection of books in the children’s section will probably impress, confuse or astound you depending on how you look at it. If you are not sure about which books to pick for your baby, ask the children’s section librarian at your local library for recommendations. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting books to read to your baby:
- For newborn babies/infants –Look for picture books with bright images, simple and sharp, contrasting visuals, repetitive phrases or words, familiar objects, mirrors. Find durable board or cloth books that withstand chewing and drool!
- For older babies –Besides the above elements, look for interactive features such as pop-up pages, texture variations and buttons that provide audio-visual stimulation. Nursery rhymes, short sentences and simple plots work well. Choose books that ask questions (Where’s Spot?) or provide other opportunities for interaction.
- For toddlers and kids in pre-school–Continue to read books from the first two categories. In addition, introduce books with concepts such as counting, people, places, foods, animals and other topics that interest them. Fill your child’s bookshelf with a mix of familiar and new books so he is neither too bored with the former nor too overwhelmed by the latter.
Remember that although what you read to your baby does matter, it is more important that you are consistent with reading aloud to your baby everyday or as often as possible. It is all right, even recommended, to occasionally read material that is outside the suggested range for your child. So, if you do not have a picture book handy but have a few minutes to spare, it is perfectly fine to pick up a magazine or novel and start reading to your child from it, using your discretion, of course.
How to read to your baby.
When reading aloud to your baby, ensure that the experience is a pleasant one. Choosing the right, age-appropriate books is the first step. Equally important is the environment you read in. The manner in which you read, your voice, you baby’s mood and the presence of other distractions determine how your reading experience turns out. Take a few simple measures to ensure an enjoyable reading experience.
- Choose a comfortable, quiet place and time to read to your child.
- Cuddle up with your child or hold him on your lap in a position that allows him a good view of the book you’re reading.
- Turn off distractions such as TV, your cell phone and loud music when you’re reading.
- Ensure that your baby is comfortable and relaxed.
- Begin by pointing out the cover of the book. Read or announce the title.
- Read slowly and clearly. Use voice and pitch variations.
- Engage your child, even if he isn’t ready to respond yet. Ask questions, point to things, have a conversation. Encourage him to ‘read’ with you, by repeating a certain word or phrase.
- Let your baby lead. If he loses interest or picks out another book, that’s your cue to switch books or change pace. Skip a page, repeat a phrase or point to a picture. Keeping your baby interested in and curious about the book is more important that finishing a book or reading all the words.
Above all, remember to relax and enjoy the experience yourself. This helps your baby do the same.
Sustaining your child’s interest in reading.
By reading to your baby, you give her a head-start to learning and sow the seed for a lifelong reading habit. As your child grows older, you can continue to play a role in sustaining her interest in books.
- Create an atmosphere conducive to reading in your home. Set up a reading corner. Involve your child in picking out or building a book shelf and adding to your collection. Together, find the best arrangement for books that works for all of you. Ensure that the lighting is right for reading.
- Show by example. Let your child watch you reading for pleasure. Take your child along to the library or book store and spend a few hours browsing books and reading together.
- Make books easily accessible. Take into account your child’s height and reach when arranging books. Always keep a collection of books in the car, in the bathroom, kitchen, family room and other places where your child spends the most time. Rotate books to provide variety. Download storybook applications to your mobile phone for times when you and your kids have to wait in line or are stuck in traffic.
- Do reading-related activities together. Make up games, watch a show or movie, visit places mentioned in a book or, go to a book signing event with your child.
- Take your child to story time and other reading events at the library and book stores.
- Hold a reading party for your child and his friends. Invite everyone to bring a favorite book along and to take turns reading, acting the stories out and making up games, riddles, jokes or songs about them.
The best aspect of reading to your kids is that you do not have to spend a fortune to enrich your child’s life with books. Reading is one activity you can enjoy with your kids that requires just a little investment of your time, yet leads to a lifetime of wonderful returns.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go” – Dr. Seuss.