Reading to Babies
I remember feeling awkward reading aloud to my oldest son as a baby. He just sat there, staring at the lights and walls. As I picked up a book, I felt like I was reading to a wall. And sometimes I questioned why I was even reading to him in the first place, especially when he couldn't interact or show any interest in the book whatsoever.
But research shows that there are many benefits to reading aloud to babies, even when they're newborn blobs and even when they're crawling around, not paying attention to you at all.
In a 2017 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that reading books with children beginning in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later prior to them starting elementary school. Bottom line: read to your babies.
When they are small, it truly doesn't matter what you're reading to them. It could be the newspaper, Harry Potter, or a novel you are reading. As babies get a bit older, though, and start to interact with books, you want to choose books that:
1) Expand vocabulary. Examples of this would be books that contain pictures of animals, common objects, etc. with labels underneath. Once your child gets a little older, start asking them to point out certain objects on the page. You will be shocked at how much their receptive language has grown!
2) Repetitive and/or rhyming language. Books that contain repetitive language and/or have rhythm or rhyming language are often the most loved! Sandra Boynton books and Goodnight Moon are two of our favorites in this category.
3) Encourage interaction. Books that have touchy-feely features, flaps, tabs to pull, and mirrors are all highly interactive. Note this doesn't have to mean sound books, although babies love those too! Let your child turn the pages (even if it's backwards and drives you crazy).
4) Are short, simple, and contain great pictures. Board books are less destructible than paperback books. They are often easier for kids to handle and turn the pages too. Picking books with vibrant colors, pictures (illustrated or photos) will help keep your baby's interest!
Some other suggestions about reading to babies:
1) Make reading part of your daily routine. If you make a habit when your baby is young, they will learn to expect it, and it may become the calmest, most soothing part of your day. It might be before bedtime, while they're eating breakfast, or before nap time. Or maybe you read to them in snippets throughout the day! Don't feel like you need 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading time to read to your baby. Any amount is better than none!
6) Be prepared to read the same book over... and over... and over... More about that later, but kids benefit from hearing the same book read over and over again. As much as we might not want to hear the same book for the 5,000th time, it is ok and beneficial to their language development!
7) The more you read, the more comfortable you'll get with reading aloud. Just like with anything, the more you practice reading, the better. Even if at first you feel awkward and like you're talking to a wall, you're setting the stage for important habits and, most importantly, a lifetime love of reading.
Caveat #1: Don't beat yourself if you don't read every night, or read for hours upon end every day. No one is perfect, and we all have areas we can improve!
Caveat #2: It's ok if your baby moves around! They are STILL getting the language input they need.
It is never too early to start reading to your babies. Read to them often, use your silliest voices, and let them see how much fun reading can be as a family activity.