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 about the benefits of reading to your baby. An infant won't understand everything you're doing or why. But you wouldn't wait until your child could understand what you were saying before you started speaking to him or her, right? Nor would you bypass lullabies until your baby could carry a tune or wait until he or she could shake a rattle before you offered any toys.
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.
- teaches a 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 babies reach their first birthday they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their 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 build a rich network of words in a baby's brain. Kids whose parents frequently talk/read to them know more words by age 2 than children who have not been read to. And kids who are read to during their early years are more likely to learn to read at the right time.
When you read, your child hears you using many different emotions and expressive sounds, which fosters social and emotional development. Reading also invites your baby to look, point, touch, and answer questions — all of which promote social development and thinking skills. And your baby improves language skills by imitating sounds, recognizing pictures, and learning words.
But perhaps the most important reason to read aloud is that it makes 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. And, if infants and children are read to often with joy, excitement, and closeness, they begin to associate books with happiness — and budding readers are created.
Different Ages, Different Stages
Young babies may not know what the pictures in a book mean, but they can focus on them, especially faces, bright colors, and contrasting patterns. When you read or sing lullabies and nursery rhymes, you can entertain and soothe your infant.
Between 4 and 6 months, your baby may begin to show more interest in books. He or she will grab and hold books, but will mouth, chew, and drop them as well. Choose sturdy vinyl or cloth books with bright colors and repetitive or rhyming text.
Between 6 and 12 months, your child is beginning to understand that pictures represent objects, and most likely will develop preferences for certain pictures, pages, or even entire stories. Your baby will respond while you read, grabbing for the book and making sounds, and by 12 months will turn pages (with some help from you), pat or start to point to objects on a page, and repeat your sounds.
When and How to Read
Here's a great 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 times when your baby is dry, fed, and alert. Books also come in handy when you're 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:
- Cuddling while you read helps your baby 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 hold sturdier vinyl, cloth, or 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 pictures. During the first few months of life, your child 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, you can read vinyl or cloth books that have faces, bright colors, and shapes. 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 your child starts talking, choose books that invite babies 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 books with flaps that open for a surprise. Board books make page turning easier for infants and vinyl or cloth books 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 little one 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.