While you’re stocking up your reading picks, don’t forget to load up on books for your baby, even if your baby isn’t technically here yet.
Books are a good investment.
“Evidence suggests that parents should start reading aloud to their baby even before birth,” says Dr. J. Richard Gentry, author of Raising Confident Readers. Studies show that by day three of being read aloud to inutero, an unborn baby can recognize his mother’s voice. “Being read aloud to is already having an impact on a baby’s brain development,” Dr. Gentry says.
Keep on reading aloud after your baby is born too. Infants don’t exactly understand what they’re hearing initially. Still, they’re putting the pieces together. “The first three years of life are when 85 percent of your baby’s brain develops,” Dr. Gentry says. The growth of your baby’s brain during those first three years is like a bag of popcorn doing its thing in your microwave–pop! pop! pop! but over a period of years, not minutes. In other words, it’s explosive.
Reading Starts the Conversation
“Babies are born with the capacity to perceive any sounds of human language. Initially, your baby is tuning into the sounds of your native language and the cadence and the syntax. Language is data for your child’s developing brain. Reading is like having a conversation with your child,” Dr. Gentry says.
Research shows that words matters, especially the quantity spoken to your child. A landmark study, done some 30 years ago by researcher Betty Hart and Todd Risley, found that by age 4, children who were read aloud to and talked to frequently at home by caregivers had 30 million more words in their vocabulary, compared to kids from homes where there wasn’t a lot of conversation. Hart and Risley’s work became the seminal book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.
Cuddling up and reading to your child creates a mutual bond too. “Research that shows that not only is reading aloud helpful for baby to bond with the parent, but it’s really helping the parent to bond with the baby. It creates this love between the baby and the parent for the child. It’s just a wonderful, natural thing that’s easy for parents to do,” Dr. Gentry says.
How often should you read to your baby? Is there a best way to do it? Dr. Gentry offers this advice.
Read to your baby every day. Make reading part of your daily routine. “It shouldn’t be work. It should be fun and just a natural part of how you’re raising your kids. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time invested. Why wouldn’t you want to spend 10 minutes cuddled up reading aloud and having fun with books?,” Dr. Gentry says.
Have a face to face chat. In the beginning, try to be face to face with your baby so you can look at the book together. Eye contact as you’re reading aloud is more important than anything because babies’ vision and visual recognition memory at birth are limited. By three to six months of age, however, babies begin to recognize depth perception, shape, detail and see color. That’s when you can start to talk about the illustrations and expect your baby to take more of that in.
Speak your baby’s language. Go ahead and read the same books over and over in that high-pitched sing-song voice that just comes naturally. A recent study from the University of Maryland and Harvard University found that parents who repeated words more often to their 7 month old infants had children with better language skills by age 2. But the study found that simply talking more to your child isn’t enough. It’s how you talk to your child that matters too. Speaking slowly and in sing-song helps maximize a child’s language development.
As your child gets older, talk about the pictures, the colors, and the words; make connections with what you child already knows and everyday experience. “But don’t try to make corrections. Just make reading a fun time,” Dr. Gentry says.
Play up the sound effects. If you’re reading about animals, make animal noises and make it funny. “One of my favorite books is Moo, Baa, La, La, La, by Sandra Boynton,” says Dr. Gentry. “It’s a little book in which the dog goes ‘bow wow wow,’ cats ‘meow, cows ‘moo,’ and the pigs say ‘la la la.’ The sounds and repetition of sounds are so powerful for developing a baby’s brain, and it’s also so much fun for kids.”
Get even more into it. As your baby becomes a toddler, make reading aloud interactive. “Have lots of movement. If you’re reading about kicking a ball, simulate kicking the ball,” Dr. Gentry says.
Create a book box. When your baby/toddler is old enough to choose his/her own book, create a book box so your child can pick what he wants to read and direct the experience.
Dr. Gentry’s Recommended Reads
What books should you read to your baby? Here’s Dr. Gentry’s recommended read-aloud book list for babies (even before they’re born) and toddlers:
A is for Astronaut by Sian Tucker
Baby Love: A Board Book Gift Set by Helen Oxenbury, which includes All Fall Down; Clap Hands, Say Goodnight; and Tickle, Tickle. These books feature babies in the illustrations. Babies love looking at other babies.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.; illustrated by Eric Carle.
But Not the Hippopotamus By Sandra Boynton
Fingerplays and Songs for the Very Young by Carolyn Croll. This book gets your baby’s hands, feet and toes in on the action.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown; a classic bedtime story that your child may learn to read from memory.
Mice Squeak, We Speak by Arnold Shapiro; illustrated by Tomie dePaola; with just two words on every page and beautiful illustrations in vivid colors, it’s a great first reader.
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. This interactive book encourages babies to do what they do best: pat the bunny, clap with delight, wave bye bye.
Piggies by Audrey and Don Wood. This touchy-feely book is beautifully illustrated and has just three words per page.
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. This book is a fun way for your baby to learn to count.
The Berenstain Bears Old Hat, New Hat by Jan and Stan Berenstain. This wonderful board book has just two word sentences, which is perfect for beginners.
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton. Your baby will learn words about the bedtime routine, such as taking a bath, finding jammies and brushing teeth.
The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort and G. Brian Karas. This book is a take-off of the song “The Wheels on the Bus.”
Time for Bed by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer. In this perfect-for-bedtime book, all the animals and a baby go to bed.
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek.