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?
From: Curious, Boston
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.
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