We all know that reading to children is a good thing, especially when they are learning to read themselves, yet do we really need to read to our tiny babbling babies?
In short, yes! But let’s look at why …
There are so many benefits of reading to your baby which, combined with musical activities, will give them a really good boost in their early literacy skills.
So what do we need to do? Traditionally, we all take a book, sit down, open the book at the beginning and read all the words until the end. This is great and in doing so, your baby will experience:
• inflection in your voice – no monotone readers here please!
• facial expressions– have a look at yourself in the mirror when you read to see the different facial expressions you create.
• how to turn the page – we take this for granted but knowing that we read from left to right is a learned skill. Turning the pages also helps young children to develop their fine motor skills as their little hands learn to physically turn the page too.
• special time with you – reading is a perfect time to snuggle down and bond with your baby. Add it to your daily routine so they benefit from this one to one time every day.
• visual stimulation – colourful pictures will delight your little one but they will also be developing their eye muscles every time they track across the page and look at new things.
• the joy of anticipation – every time you turn that page, it’s like a great game of peekaboo! Discover new things to see and do every time!
• a wider vocabulary – every new word or sound they hear will go into their brain bank ready for when they are able to speak these words themselves. Don’t forget that young babies understand much more than they can speak – their receptive language is huge in comparison to the language they can actually express themselves.
Here’s the thing though – you don’t have to read the words from the page every time. Indeed, you don’t even have to start at the beginning! By simply interacting with the book in a different way, the whole experience can suddenly become so much more. Here are a few pointers:
• Point out and label objects, colours and words on the page – small babies are very receptive of language and understand so much more than they can initially express through speech. They are carefully listening to everything you say and making connections in their brain between the words and the world around them.
• Have fun with vocal play – vocal play is very important in a young baby’s life. Adding the sound effects of animals (“Moo”, “Baa”) or vehicles (“Vroom”, “Chug”, “Beep”) as you read, breaks words down into phonemes, the building blocks of spoken and written language. At about 4-6 months babies also pay less attention to your eyes but more to your mouth when you speak. They begin to work out where your voice comes from and look intently at how you make the sound so by repeating a variety of sounds, your baby will begin to imitate and speak.
• Allow time for conversation – Hearing proper adult conversation is vital early on as they learn to recognise that it takes two to converse and that there are pauses to allow others to respond. Ask your baby questions. Give them time to respond in their own way – this may be a look , a point, a babble. Recognise and label any response you get – “You pointed at the giraffe!”
• Read and repeat – whilst some baby books may not be a riveting read for you, repeating them again and again is a wonderful experience for your baby. Every time you repeat it they become more familiar with the book, start to make predictions about what is coming next and will pick out their favourite bits (yes, this may mean starting at the end!). Every new activity you do with a child creates a new connection in their brain but it is through repetition that these connections are strengthened and become cemented! Repetition is essential for brain development.
All of these wonderful things can develop your baby in so many different ways but, most importantly, they will grow up knowing that reading is an enjoyable, joyful thing to do and will hopefully develop a lifelong love of reading.