Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why should I read to my baby?

A pregnant friend of mine asked me recently why I read to my 6 month old. I was honestly stumped for an answer... I mean doesn't everyone read to babies?

I told her that it's good for young kids to hear lots of different kinds of language and that there's a difference between talking baby talk and reading a story. I also told her that young kids and babies like to hear words that have rhythm to them which most stories for young people have.

I don't know where I came up with that information, I just kind of pulled it out of nowhere. So, when she asked me where I'd heard that I couldn't answer her. She ended up telling me that I was wasting my time by reading to my baby and we parted ways.

I wish I had told her:
Reading is important to me and something I enjoy a great deal. Reading to my daughter is even more important to me and I will never consider story time as a "waste of time". My daughter loves cuddling up on my lap as I read her a book and she loves looking at the pictures in books. That is why I read to my daughter.

Our conversation got me wondering what the "experts" said about reading to babies. I'm sure I read about it in my pregnancy and early-childhood books but being pregnant and having a baby does terrible things to your memory! So, tonight I pulled out some of those books and did some internet research so that I could give my friend an informative answer. I'm going to break this down into a sort of FAQ format so it's easier to read through :)

Why is it important to read to my baby?
There are several studies that show that talking to your child from the moment he is born can greatly increase his language, memory and listening skills. The more words you say to your baby everyday the better. Reading is a fun way to introduce new words to your baby. Studies show that reading to your baby will also help ignite his creativity and stir his imagination by introducing him to new words, pictures, ideas and concepts such as letters, numbers, colors and shapes in a fun way.

How old does my baby have to be before I start reading to her?
There is no minimum age requirement for reading to a child. I started reading to my daughter a few days after she was born, some people even read to their babies while they're still in the womb! Most sources that I read suggested 6 months to be a good age to start because most 6 month olds will be interested in looking at the pictures and listening to you read. Younger babies might not interact with the story as much but I believe they will still benefit from it.

What types of books should I read to my baby or child?
When a baby is very young it doesn't really matter what you read to her. Content is not as important as just hearing the spoken language. But, even young babies enjoy looking at colorful pictures and hearing words that rhyme or sound lyrical which is partly why Mother Goose is still such a success. Board books usually have bright pictures that appeal to younger kids and babies. My daughter really loves books with pictures of other babies as well as books with animals.

As your baby gets older he will likely give you some lead in what books might interest him. Does he like dinosaurs, trains, animals? Providing books that supplement a child's interests are a good way to encourage him to read. Be sure to mix it up from time to time though to keep him interested and to provide new opportunities for learning.

But, how should I read to my baby?
One of the great things about reading to your children is that it doesn't require any special skills, you don't have to be a great speaker for your child to enjoy story time! Some tips for making the most of reading time:

  • Holding your baby on your lap while reading not only allows you to both look at the book at the same time, it also allows you to cuddle your little one which helps her feel safe and loved
  • You don't have to follow the text exactly or even read the pages in the right order. Let baby be your guide to a certain extent. It's okay if he wants to turn the page while you're still reading, let him explore the book a little. If he points to a picture acknowledge what he's pointing at. ("Is that a bear? What a nice bear! He kinds of looks like your teddy bear!"
  • Use different voices for the characters and read with expression. Monotone voices are boring for everyone but baby will especially appreciate and upbeat, involved reading!
  • If baby starts to fuss - put the book away! Reading is good but babies can get bored quickly and if she's bored and stressed while you're reading to her she will learn that story time is boring and stressful.
What do you think? Is reading to baby important or a waste of time? Do you have any story time rituals? Please comment and share your thoughts! :)

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