Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.” In reality, helping your child develop a love of reading actually begins from the day they are born—if not before. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read the first Harry Potter book to him throughout my pregnancy. After he was born, his daily routine included a small period of time where I would read to him.
Some days we were only able to fit in one book, but other days we read story after story as the minutes ticked by. That very same child is now a 13 year old book-obsessed reader and I am positive that his love of reading has certainly not come about by coincidence.
Importance of reading to your child
There are so many reasons why you should read to your infant child. Reading to your baby has significant benefits for their healthy development. Yet, many parents don’t seem to understand the value of reading to children so young. Since babies’ brains are literal learning machines, activities like reading, singing, and talking can profoundly impact their developing brains.
When you read to your baby, you expose them to many new words, which is vital for supporting their communication and language development. Put very simply, the more words that a child hears, the more words they will learn.
In 2003, a study called the “30 million word gap” reported that children from lower-income families hear 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they’re 3 years old. The study determined that children from higher-income families do so much better in language development because the home environment tends to be more “language rich.”
Fortunately, the study also showed that regardless of income, providing a language-rich environment for babies and young children will significantly help close the 30 million word gap. Reading to your baby will help build the foundations for a language-rich environment to support your child in developing their language end communication skills.
In addition to the learning benefits of reading to your baby, it’s also a wonderful bonding opportunity to build a sense of connection and closeness. Your baby will love having your undivided attention. This closeness will strengthen their sense of security and promote the building of positive attachments. Additionally, spending time reading to your baby will show them that reading is a fun and enjoyable experience.
When you read to babies and children frequently, they begin to associate the experience with joy, closeness, and excitement, thus associating reading and books with happiness. This is how you create a love of reading, and this is why I now have a 13 year old reading superstar—it all began from infancy.
How should you read to your baby?
Here are some helpful tips for understanding how to read to your baby:
- Use an expressive voice that can convey a range of emotions. Change the tone of your voice and have fun with it.
- Read the same books over and over. By doing this, the child will begin to recognize pictures and learn new words.
- Respond to cues. Encourage your baby to touch, look and point to pictures as you’re reading and respond to these cues with enthusiasm.
- Don’t rush. Read slowly and spend time on each page looking at and talking about the pictures.
- Draw your baby’s attention. Point out familiar and new things to draw them in.
- Include funny noises and sounds. Your baby will love it!
- Hold your baby close while you read. Make sure they can see your face as well as the book.
- Let your baby be the guide. If they’re done after one book, that’s ok. Don’t force them to stay and listen if they are ready for play or sleep.
- Invest in interactive books. The lift-the-flap books and pop up books can be especially engaging for babies.
Shared reading at home
Having a nice, comfortable place for reading together will make the whole experience more enjoyable. Set up a special space for reading with a big comfy chair or beanbag and a bookshelf nearby. Incorporate reading into your daily routine but also learn to recognize when your baby has had enough. Remember to focus on the quality of time spent with your baby over the quantity of books to read.
Finally, don’t forget to turn off the television or radio when you’re reading to your baby and place your phone on silent. This is a special time where the focus should be on you and your baby so try to avoid all unnecessary distractions.
Reading is not just an activity you should do with your older child. Reading to your baby from birth will help nourish a secure attachment and grow the neurological pathways in your baby’s brain.
The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud – it is the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.
— Mem Fox in Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever
This is just as true for a baby. Give your baby the best start in life by reading to them every day. And keep up the storytime habit as they grow into toddlers as well.