Read to your baby!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 2, 2012 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,
I keep hearing I should read with my baby, but am not sure how or why- he can't even talk! What do you think?
Thanks,
From: Curious, Boston


Dear Curious,

I know, it doesn't seem logical to read to a baby who doesn't understand what you're saying. But then, why bother talking to him or her, either? At the simplest level, they are both about human connection. When you coo and gaga and baby talk to your infant, you're making eye contact. You wait for him to coo and gaga back to you, and to look you in the eye. It's the beginning of conversation. Without any effort on your part, your baby is learning that conversation involves turn-taking.

Reading is the same thing. At the simplest level, it's about human connection. While you read, the time you have together cuddling in your lap is deepening the parent-child bond. That can never be bad, in fact, it's something a child, even a baby, starts to look forward to as a source of comfort.

This is reminding me of one of my fondest memories as a young mother. I don't usually get personal, so I hope you don't mind indulging me. My husband and I were taking our first trip with our young son. He was about 6 months old. We were driving with about three hours yet to go when he started to fuss. We sang to him, we talked to him, we finally pulled off the road. His diaper wasn't dirty. He wasn't interested in nursing. We got back in the car. We sang some more. Finally, out of desperation, I began to recite his favorite book, "Suppertime for Frieda Fuzzypaws." It's a board book by Cyndy Szekeres. I still know it by heart. I'm looking at it right now (yes, yes, I saved his favorite books for the possibility of you-know-whats someday) and it still makes me smile. Anyway, I wasn't more than two sentences into my recitation -- "'Suppertime,' Mama calls. She puts some macaroni and two beans on Frieda's plate..." when a miracle happened. Our baby boy stopped fussing. Even then, I suspected it wasn't the prose that comforted him as much as the sound of my voice with its familiar inflection and tone and the association it held to the comfort and security of rocking. But I've never doubted the power of reading aloud since then.

Anyway, to follow the conversation analogy, as your baby gets older, the reading experience effortlessly translates into pre-literacy skills. A toddler learns to open a book from left to right. As you move your fingers across the words, she learns that reading goes across the page, from left to right, and from top to bottom. If you start reading from birth, by 12 months, he'll know every sound he needs in order to speak his native language and you'll be helping him to grow his vocabulary

You get the idea.

The non-profit organization, Raising a Reader, says that when parents start reading to babies, those kids are better able to enter school ready to learn. The American Academy of Pediatrics says one of the secrets to a smarter baby is to read aloud to him. In fact, the AAP says it doesn't even have to be books meant for babies. On the AAP website, Healthy Children, it says, "In your baby’s first months...it’s the time you share and the sound of your voice that your baby will care about most. In fact, we suggest you take this opportunity to read aloud whatever you find to be the most interesting, since it will only be a matter of months before your baby will expect to have a say in which book(s) you read!"

This past weekend, I attended a baby shower where each guest was asked to help start a library for this unborn baby by bringing a favorite book from their own childhood or one their child loved. There were collective oohs and aahs as each book was unveiled, and the range of books was amazing from the obvious "Make Way for Ducklings" to the unexpected, Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." My contribution was, "May I Bring a Friend?" by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. Click here for tips from Raising a Reader on how to read to your child of any age and here for Common Sense Media's list of great books for kids of all ages.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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10 comments so far...
  1. I love this question and I love Barbara's advice. I'll just add that it sets you up for developing an amazingly good habit. I wasn't too successful with reading to an active, older baby who only wanted to take the book from me and chew it, but we always tried, and I still read to my almost nine year old son, almost every night, for 30-60 minutes depending on how much time we have. Very few parents that I know still read to their children once the kids are able to really read on their own. The books I read to him at night are my choice, and I work hard at picking the right ones. But it is our favorite time together, even still! He can't get enough. And I can't help but feel that there is a correlation between this and the fact that his reading ability is several grade levels above where it needs to be.

    Posted by RH March 2, 12 07:36 AM
  1. I think this is either a young child asking this (which I would hope) or this is a fake letter.

    Posted by j.d. March 2, 12 07:55 AM
  1. Barbara - This is a lovely story! We had a similar experience when our daughter was 5 months old and on the first road trip. It ended up with my husband in the back seat while I drove, reading to her. It was the only thing that calmed her down.

    A better question for the OP to ask him/herself though is this: Why WOULDN'T you read to your baby? What would stop you from doing that? It's not harmful, it's good cuddle time, it gives them a focus...I mean, I dunno. I guess I don't understand the question at all.

    Posted by Phe March 2, 12 08:14 AM
  1. My son was a very early reader and, at 11, now reads at a high school level and remains an enthusiastic reader. Clearly, much of this is inate ability, but I can't help but wonder how much my reading to him as an infant contributed to his love of words. Starting at about 3 months, I read to him every day; not out of a desire to educate him, but just because I love to read and it was great cuddle time. We both responded most to books with a strong rhyme and cadence structure (love, love, love the Sandra Boynoton books) and there are a million and one boardbooks that fit this description. (I found that TJMaxx and Marshalls often have a decent selection of discounted board books.)

    Posted by amyfaith March 2, 12 09:07 AM
  1. I just want to mention a little story. I know a couple expecting their first child about ten years ago. Every night, the father would read a story to the mother's belly. When they discovered the sex of the child, he would frequently reference her name. The day of her birth, after she was born, the father softly called his daughter's name. She turned her head towards his voice. They are deeply bonded. Does anyone really need another reason to read to your child?

    Posted by patches02 March 2, 12 09:23 AM
  1. I second RH's comments. I've been reading to my daughter since she was a newborn. It all started when she was in those days when her body didn't know day from night and we'd cuddle up and read stories at 3am because I didn't know what else to do with my wide-awake newborn. She's older now - 5 yrs old - and with her recent interest in "chapter books", our pre-bedtime reading adventures have been one of the best bonding expriences we could have every day. I love how excited she gets to see what's going to happen tomorrow night. I love how I get to quiz her on what happened last night to help develop her memory skills and prep us for tonight's chapters. I love seeing the joy on her face as we cuddle up together to read stories. There's no doubt in my mind how important this 1-on-1 time is with my child and how much we *both* get out of it. I plan on reading to her before bedtime for as long as she'll let me!

    Posted by RA March 2, 12 09:44 AM
  1. When I was nursing my girls, which took upwards to 40 minutes, I would read to them books that I treasure. I read "Little Women" to my oldest and "To Kill a Mockingbird." Both girls, now 3 and 1, will sit with me and be read to every night and love to look at books on their own.

    Posted by Amy March 2, 12 02:26 PM
  1. Yes, yes, yes, read to your baby! We started with the ubiquitous Goodnight Moon and even at 2 months old, I could tell he was staring at the pictures and paying attention. He still loves to be read to now and is fascinated by letters. He knows them all and even what sounds they make and he's only 2 1/2.

    Posted by Emily March 2, 12 03:23 PM
  1. My husband was skeptical about reading to our new baby years ago--"what's the point? he can't even understand what we're saying?"--but he did it anyway and was amazed at how much our son ended up loving books. Time goes by so fast, that even though it seems silly to read to a baby, soon your baby will be a toddler picking out his/her favorites and bringing them to you to read! Why wait? Baby books only take a minute to read anyway. We're talking about reading for a few minutes a day, maybe a couple times a day. Make sure they're baby books--three or four words per page, simple pictures, bright colors.

    Posted by chilly March 2, 12 03:26 PM
  1. I'll just say, this morning as I was getting ready for work, my 3 year old went into my 14 month old's room and said, why are you crying, do you want me to read you a book. She then started to read from memory and picture clues "Are you my Mother" to the baby, and both were as happy as could be. It was a fantastic moment.

    Posted by Jennifer March 2, 12 04:53 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. I love this question and I love Barbara's advice. I'll just add that it sets you up for developing an amazingly good habit. I wasn't too successful with reading to an active, older baby who only wanted to take the book from me and chew it, but we always tried, and I still read to my almost nine year old son, almost every night, for 30-60 minutes depending on how much time we have. Very few parents that I know still read to their children once the kids are able to really read on their own. The books I read to him at night are my choice, and I work hard at picking the right ones. But it is our favorite time together, even still! He can't get enough. And I can't help but feel that there is a correlation between this and the fact that his reading ability is several grade levels above where it needs to be.

    Posted by RH March 2, 12 07:36 AM
  1. I think this is either a young child asking this (which I would hope) or this is a fake letter.

    Posted by j.d. March 2, 12 07:55 AM
  1. Barbara - This is a lovely story! We had a similar experience when our daughter was 5 months old and on the first road trip. It ended up with my husband in the back seat while I drove, reading to her. It was the only thing that calmed her down.

    A better question for the OP to ask him/herself though is this: Why WOULDN'T you read to your baby? What would stop you from doing that? It's not harmful, it's good cuddle time, it gives them a focus...I mean, I dunno. I guess I don't understand the question at all.

    Posted by Phe March 2, 12 08:14 AM
  1. My son was a very early reader and, at 11, now reads at a high school level and remains an enthusiastic reader. Clearly, much of this is inate ability, but I can't help but wonder how much my reading to him as an infant contributed to his love of words. Starting at about 3 months, I read to him every day; not out of a desire to educate him, but just because I love to read and it was great cuddle time. We both responded most to books with a strong rhyme and cadence structure (love, love, love the Sandra Boynoton books) and there are a million and one boardbooks that fit this description. (I found that TJMaxx and Marshalls often have a decent selection of discounted board books.)

    Posted by amyfaith March 2, 12 09:07 AM
  1. I just want to mention a little story. I know a couple expecting their first child about ten years ago. Every night, the father would read a story to the mother's belly. When they discovered the sex of the child, he would frequently reference her name. The day of her birth, after she was born, the father softly called his daughter's name. She turned her head towards his voice. They are deeply bonded. Does anyone really need another reason to read to your child?

    Posted by patches02 March 2, 12 09:23 AM
  1. I second RH's comments. I've been reading to my daughter since she was a newborn. It all started when she was in those days when her body didn't know day from night and we'd cuddle up and read stories at 3am because I didn't know what else to do with my wide-awake newborn. She's older now - 5 yrs old - and with her recent interest in "chapter books", our pre-bedtime reading adventures have been one of the best bonding expriences we could have every day. I love how excited she gets to see what's going to happen tomorrow night. I love how I get to quiz her on what happened last night to help develop her memory skills and prep us for tonight's chapters. I love seeing the joy on her face as we cuddle up together to read stories. There's no doubt in my mind how important this 1-on-1 time is with my child and how much we *both* get out of it. I plan on reading to her before bedtime for as long as she'll let me!

    Posted by RA March 2, 12 09:44 AM
  1. When I was nursing my girls, which took upwards to 40 minutes, I would read to them books that I treasure. I read "Little Women" to my oldest and "To Kill a Mockingbird." Both girls, now 3 and 1, will sit with me and be read to every night and love to look at books on their own.

    Posted by Amy March 2, 12 02:26 PM
  1. Yes, yes, yes, read to your baby! We started with the ubiquitous Goodnight Moon and even at 2 months old, I could tell he was staring at the pictures and paying attention. He still loves to be read to now and is fascinated by letters. He knows them all and even what sounds they make and he's only 2 1/2.

    Posted by Emily March 2, 12 03:23 PM
  1. My husband was skeptical about reading to our new baby years ago--"what's the point? he can't even understand what we're saying?"--but he did it anyway and was amazed at how much our son ended up loving books. Time goes by so fast, that even though it seems silly to read to a baby, soon your baby will be a toddler picking out his/her favorites and bringing them to you to read! Why wait? Baby books only take a minute to read anyway. We're talking about reading for a few minutes a day, maybe a couple times a day. Make sure they're baby books--three or four words per page, simple pictures, bright colors.

    Posted by chilly March 2, 12 03:26 PM
  1. I'll just say, this morning as I was getting ready for work, my 3 year old went into my 14 month old's room and said, why are you crying, do you want me to read you a book. She then started to read from memory and picture clues "Are you my Mother" to the baby, and both were as happy as could be. It was a fantastic moment.

    Posted by Jennifer March 2, 12 04:53 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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