Time and time again we’ve heard that infants and babies should be read to as a habit.Most of us wonder why on earth should we, especially since the little ones probably can’t comprehend a single sentence read to them. Reading to infants whose only response is waving their little arms in the air and reaching out to grab the book in hopes of popping it into their mouth for a taste, doesn’t quite make sense! Or… does it? Well, its time to read all about it! A BT Guide
More effective than you think!
The fact is, we don’t hold back lullabies till a baby can sing, or wait till junior can hold or grasp a toy before offering a cute rattle for his/her amusement… In fact, think about it – Parents talk to their newborns all the time, right from the start. Yes, it may be pure baby-talk, with lots of coocie-coos and cute, incomprehensive hi-pitched words and phrases. Still, they do constantly talk to their babies, knowing very well the tiny being hasn’t a clue what they’re saying. However, regardless of whether they think their babies can understand them or otherwise, many parents are on the right track!
While the “not understanding what they’re saying part” might be true, research however shows that intelligence (and not to mention language skills) are directly linked to how many words an infant hears on an everyday basis. Astounding? Indeed! In one study in the US it was found that babies who heard an average of 2,100 words an hour scored better in a specially created assessment test at the age of three compared to those whose parents talked less to them.
If talking to babies does wonders for their intelligence, imagine what reading can do! When you read to your child, you tend to utilize a variety of different sounds, tones and emotions. All these collectively foster strong all-around development for a little child while providing an excellent opportunity for baby-parent bonding as well. Using well-chosen books with bright, attractive images prompts a baby to look, focus, reach out to touch, point and even wonder ( when questions are asked).
When executed creatively, reading to little ones can be a fun and effective way to add variety to vocabulary-building. Babies will be indirectly building on language and thinking skills by imitating sounds, memorizing and recognizing images and pictures, learning and recognizing words and so on.
The benefits of reading to your child
There are two things that babies love the most, mainly the sound of a parent’s voice and having that parent as close by as possible. Reading to you child while holding him/her is a naturally clever way of letting them connect these (your voice and being close to you), with books and words. Reading to a child is a wonderful form of stimulation, not to mention helps to keep baby comfortably close enough for hugs and cuddles for the duration of the reading time. Even as baby grows and sits in the cot or bed, reading can still be maintained as an intellectually building and enriching activity until he/she can read on their own.
Through day to day experiences and activities, a baby is able to gather information and is able to understand their native language. Some may begin to utter a few words even before their first birthday!
The more stimulation a child gets as a baby, the better his or her communication skills will improve and flourish. Reading to a baby is akin to feeding his or her brain with words and sounds. It has been found in various studies that kids who have been frequently read to know and understand more words by the time they’re two compared to those who have not been exposed or have been less exposed to reading. When done with emotions and actions, such as animated hand actions and facial expressions, it enriches the whole experience and needless to say, can be pleasantly entertaining for baby and you.
Below are the reasons why reading to a child is such an important form of stimulation
- Teaches a baby the art of listening and remembering.
- Feeds a baby with more and more vocabulary
- Teaches a baby about the need for communication
- Introduces a baby to the concepts of letters, numbers, shapes, colors and stories.
- Give babies a better understanding about the world around them
- Children who are read to since infancy learn to read earlier in life and also read better and faster.
- Fosters social and emotional development
Reading: The best exposure to language
Research has indicated that active exposure to language during infancy can have educational advantages and can give a child the extra edge needed to cope socially in the years to come. While flashcards and baby word games with special instructions do have their own advantages, reading to a child sets a stronger foundation for independent reading later on in life. It helps a child:
- Recognize the letters of the alphabets
- Accumulate vocabulary
- Understand that markings on the pages stand for alphabets and words
- Know how to use words correctly
- Foster phonemic awareness
From baby to toddler
As a baby grows into a toddler, they have many milestones to cover with all-round challenges and triumphs. It helps immensely to hear of stories of courage and bravery of ‘other kids’ aka the storybook characters who have successfully potty-trained or to find out that there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet and such.
This will also be the time where they make great leaps of feats in learning and memorizing letters, numbers, colors, animal, plants, objects, shapes and so on in their everyday lives Books with big prints and lots of colors and images will help reinforce these live lessons in a fun and interesting way. Reading together also gives your toddler a sense of having a comfortable connection with you.
When is the best time to read to a fussy toddler?
While anytime your bub seems in a good mood will be a good time for a read, experts advocate a sense of regularity for as much as possible. Hence, do try to have at least one scheduled, anticipated reading time each day. Before naps or before tucking in for the night are two most recommended times for a reading session, especially if you are dealing with an active toddler who does not fancy being read to in the daytime during playtimes. If your toddler allows it, hold him or her in your lap when you read. It gives a sense of security and warmth and helps him or her relax.
It is only natural if a toddler wants to be fully independent and make his or her own choices. Offer a few books to which they can choose from to indulge them in this need. Don’t forget to praise their selection! Pretend to not be able to find an image on a page and watch as junior’s face lights up as he or she manages to find something for mummy! Your toddler will also delight in completing sentences in books he or she has ‘read’ before. That’s the power of repetitiveness!
Tips worth trying:
- Read slowly and clearly (what’s the rush, anyway?)
- Read books which your toddler wants to read, even if its been days (or weeks) of reading the same old thing over and over again!
- Be generous with your expressions when reading to your bub – Raise and lower your voice as to bring out the story well.
- Encourage thinking by asking questions – “Why do you think the giraffe feels happy now?” or “What do you think the little boy should do now?”
- Substitute your child’s’s name for his or her favorite character in the book
- Encourage participation – clapping or singing along if the book is a nursery rhyme or a sing-along book.
What can you read to your baby?
Infants and babies are listening and picking up on the sounds and rhythm of a language rather than on the content. Initially, especially if you start reading to a child while he or she is still an infant, the concentration is more if not all towards the sound and tone of you voice. During this stage, anything goes as far as reading material is concerned. While you may think that children’s books with plenty of colors and images will do the trick, any reading material from the newspaper to a magazine will fare just as well.
In time however, it might get challenging to keep your baby’s attention to the sound of you reading alone. This is because your baby will be ready to learn more, take in more info and experience new things. Hence it would be a good idea to keep those specially-made colorful kids’ books on standby.
….. but my baby won’t sit still long enough to be read to. How do I do this?
Take the cue from observing your baby. Books with lots of colorful images are sure to win over any child, hence many parents opt for these in their efforts to hold their little one’s attention through a story, or at least halfway through. Books with rhyming words or catchy phrases make for pleasurable learning for babies for the sound of mummy or daddy rhyming away in such a fun manner will surely get the little one to appreciate the ‘lesson’ and anticipate the next reading session.
Babies generally love to reach out and grab anything which catches their eyes after which they will probably pop the object into their mouth for a taste. Books are no exception, so make sure the books you choose for your diligent little listener-cum-taster can withstand the constant mouthing. Thick, non-toxic board books and cloth books are your surest bet.
Do not go for anything which can be easily destroyed by the constant gumming and biting. While fancy children’s books may come with flaps, pop-ups, pull out partitions and whatnots, it is important to remember that anything too delicate or easily destroyed will not serve much of a purpose for long. Once you think baby has had enough of a certain book, try another completely different one. It will be an opportunity for you to introduce new words and sounds to bub, not to mention a completely different object to bite and gnaw after the reading is done!
Keeping the fun alive in early literacy
What to do and not to do.
Let us be realistic about this – We’re not expecting a two month old infant or even a one year old baby to actually start reading out the words in a book! (Well, not at first anyway!). Babies will be more inclined to explore a book through and through than to attempt to understand it’s content. Initially, how a book feels in their hands, the noise it makes when it’s dropped to the ground and how it tastes in his or her mouth are the only form of understanding a baby would be interested in. What interests them too is the sound of your voice, the tone and the pitch – and how it connects to this ‘mysterious’ object (the book).
At times, it can be a pretty challenging task to go through even a short picture-filled story book with a baby. Rest assured though, that you are giving your child an excellent head start in literacy and the rewards will be well worth the effort.
Let there be books everywhere. Keep books handy all over the place so that baby and you can have a reading session anywhere, anytime. Keep some in the car, in the diaper bag, by the bathtub and even in the stroller.
Don’t get cross at ripped pages!
So, baby went and ripped off half a page from the new book you bought? Stay calm and remember that babies are stronger than most books – which is why nowadays, baby-friendly cloth books and board books are made! Try to avoid giving a small baby anything ‘precious’ which can be easily ripped off or apart. This includes photo albums and that novel you’re trying to finish! For the same reason, ‘pop-upbooks might be best reserved for when a baby is a tad older and know better than to rip off a dinosaur’s head!
Here are some ‘do’s and ‘don’ts to keep in mind when sitting down with your baby and a book.
When reading to baby, do:
- Get tactile with textures. Books with different textures can double up as sensory tools besides being literary tools. Encourage your baby to touch and feel the different textures while you point to the words and read out loud.
- Let baby lead the session. If baby prefers passing the book back and forth to you or playing stack-ups with the books or ‘opening and closing’ the book over and over again before handing it back to you, regard all these as ‘learning’ too! Baby is, after all, connecting books with having some fun time with mummy.
- Be generous with repeat performances. Familiarity is soothing to babies and toddlers, so if they keep pointing to one particular book, do indulge them! Soon enough, they’ll find a new favorite for your reading times together.
- Keep things exciting. Kids generally love drama, so read with enthusiasm! using comical voices and making some silly sounds will keep baby entertained and interested to know what more can ‘come out of’ the book mummy is holding!
- Point and show to baby. While still in the state of pre-literacy, pictures, colors and shapes are very important to babies to build a better understanding of the world around them. Point and to pictures and say (or ask) out loud: “ Look at that big red truck” or “ Where’s the white, fluffy cloud? Oh, look, there it is!” and so on and so forth.
- Let baby grab it. It’s a natural instinct for baby to reach out and grab the book ( or anything else for that matter) out of your hands…Let it be! Keep a standby book at hand so you can continue to read to your little grabbing machine, even if it means switching the books back and forth.
When reading to baby, try NOT to:
- Make baby’s reading time about you. If you sit down with the intention of reporting back to your peers about your baby’s fabulous progress in learning to read ( or how he sat through a 40-minute session of mummy reading to him), it might be nothing more than disappointing for you, not to mention frustrating for baby too, who just wants to have fun with mummy!
- Take baby’s rejections personally. Like you, baby has his or her moods too, so if baby just isn’t up for a proper reading together session, let it go and try again later or the next day.
- Get dismayed when bub crawls away. To a crawler or toddler, nothing is more interesting than the ability to move around. Remember though that he or she can still hear you, so why not continue reading? If bub doesn’t come back, there’s always another time to look forward to.
- Prevent baby from gnawing a book. Mouthing everything they can get hold of is the way babies explore and learn about the world around them. They’re not doing this to annoy you – its instinct!
- Feel inclined to finish a book you start. When it comes to babies, the experience, including the process is far more important than the immediate outcome. On top of that, babies and toddlers are naturally not very patient beings! Little bits of readings are just right. You don’t have to reach the end of the book to have had a pleasant reading time spent together.
- Keep to a certain pace. Take your cue from baby’s mood and speed up or slow down.
- Expect swift results. It might not be something visible to you right away, but your baby is gaining and profiting greatly by your reading, so do carry on reading and feeding bub’s brain intellectually, socially and mentally.