It’s never too early to read aloud to your infant!
Babies are prepared at birth to listen to language. You can help a child’s language and communication skills from the get-go, by reading books and talking to your baby about what you find there.
Listening is essential to a child’s development of language, and that means listening to “live” language such as talking or reading aloud, not watching videos or TV. Picture books and board books provide a platform for children to hear spoken words and associate those words with the things they represent. Books also offer a wide variety of words and sounds we don’t use in our everyday speaking.
Babies love the sounds, rhythms and songs found in early children’s books (don’t forget nursery rhymes!) and these language experiences are important for baby’s healthy brain development. Did you know that children who are read to 3X per week or more do much better in later development than children who are read to less than 3X per week?
Ellen Galinsky, in her book Mind In The Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, reports that parent-look–shifting our focus to what we want children to look at–helps children learn words. “When babies follow our gaze, we are actually telling them with our eyes what we think is important.” Experiments done with babies reveal that we’re helping children learn language with our hands as well, by gesturing or pointing to what we want children to focus on and naming it. She calls this parent-gesture. Children themselves begin to point around eight months or later. It appears that pointing and other gestures are the first steps that all children take into language.
Here are a few suggestions for sharing books with infants. (From Raising Readers: A Guide to Sharing Literature with Young Children, by Lamme & NCTE).
+ Share a book with your baby every day. Find a “routine” time to read, a time when you and your baby are calm and feeling good–after a nap? before bed? Don’t try to read to a fussy baby. Give a squirmy child a small toy to play with while you read.
+Hold your child on your lap. Show your baby the book, pointing to the pictures and talking about what you see in the book in a calm voice. Point to the pictures and name things. Touch and love your baby while you’re reading.
+Start by interacting with a book for a short time –even a minute or two for infants. Respond to your child’s interest and stop when he/she loses interest. Keep this time together fun and positive, warm and cozy.
+Choose books that you enjoy; don’t waste time with books you don’t like. It’s important that you enjoy this experience, too.
+It’s okay for a baby to play with the book if she wants to (board books are for tasting too).
+Repeat familiar books. Children love repetition and learn from hearing the same words over and over again.
Children’s librarians are always happy to help you choose appropriate books for infants. I know–I’m a children’s librarian! And many libraries offer “Books & Baby”-type programs for stimulating the development of language and communication skills in infants.
“When you read aloud to infants, they discover that books have words and pictures, stories have a sequence, language is made up of different sounds, and words and pictures have meaning. It all starts so early!” (Cindy Christin, Bozeman Public Library).
And by the way, making “book time” a part of every day may become one of the most satisfying things you and your child do together!