Reading to your baby: Why storytime is good

The most active period of brain development is between birth and 3 years.  Study after study shows that reading to babies during this time is beneficial. Photo: Cesar Rincón

SILVER SPRING, Md, June 15, 2012 – The picture of a child on a parent’s lap with a picture book open in front of them is common, but when it comes to infants, is it more entertaining for the parent than the child? The answer is no. Study after study shows that reading to children, even very young children, plays an important role in language development, including vocabulary development and sentence structure.

Reading to young children helps them develop their language skills. Photo by J. Aaron Farr. Click to enlarge.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most intense period of language development is between birth and 3 years. In fact, due to the rapid development of the brain, babies begin to understand the basic sounds of their native language by 6 months old.  In the September 2007 issue of NIH News in Health, NIH explained the difference between speech and language. They define speech as “the verbal expression of language,” and that language is “the entire system by which we express and receive information in a way that’s meaningful.”

The AAP says that infants learn through their experiences and interactions. They go on to say that one of the best ways for an infant to learn how to talk is by being read to, and recommend you make a habit of reading to your baby every day. The National Scientific Council for the Developing Child agrees, stating in one of its briefs that reading to very young children even before they have begun to identify letters can form an important foundation for vocabulary and language development later in life.

Reading to babies increases their language input, thus exposing them to more words and repetitions of words than they would normally get in everyday activities. It also has an effect on the long term educational success of children.  In the May 20, 2010 issue of Science Daily, Mariah Evans discusses her 20-year study that revealed that regardless of socio-economic status, literacy and the number of books in the home had a direct effect on the amount of education the child will attain.

Setting the pattern of reading daily early helps ensure that as your child ages they will continue to have an interest in books, which is important as they enter school.

There are a few things to keep in mind when reading to your baby.  First, infants have notoriously short attention spans, so starting with longer classic story books will only frustrate you as your little one starts getting bored after a few pages.  Infants also like to grab everything and anything. So, try board books that have thicker “pages” that can’t be easily damaged by little hands, but can be easily turned by them.

Have a handful of books for variety, but don’t worry about needing an entire library in your home. Repetition is important to how babies learn, so reading the same book over and over is a good thing. Not to mention, as your child ages he will develop favorites that he will request to hear over and over.

Different types of books are designed to different age groups. Talk to your bookseller or librarian about what the right books are for you. Photo by Robynlou Kavanagh. Click to enlarge.

Since babies learn from experience, certain types of baby books can help foster learning through other senses.  These books aren’t necessarily about the story. Touch and feel books offer your baby an opportunity to experience new textures, often with context of animals. Other books designed for infants highlight colors or numbers, letters or shapes.

For very young children, don’t strictly stick to the text in the book. Have conversations about what is in each picture. What sounds to the animals make? What color are the balloons? What are the characters doing? All of these discussions give your baby more words to hear and as he gets older, context in which to learn the meaning of those words.

Try to find books that appeal to your baby’s interests. If your little girl loves cats, find a book picture book with a cat as the main character.  If your little boy loves trucks, ask your bookseller for a book about things that go.

Babies love bright colors and the faces of other babies. Look for books that feature these characteristics to more fully engage your child’s attention at very young ages.

Finally, try to read to your child daily. Some parents find a small block of reading right before bed is a great way to stay consistent and help calm your baby in preparation for sleep. At the very least, spending time with your baby in your lap and a book in your hands help provide a bonding experience that you wouldn’t get from a Baby Einstein Video.

 

Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times. Check out Brighid’s children’s book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands.

 

 


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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret

 

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