My mom was an elementary school teacher, so instead of the requisite diaper cakes and onsies, my son got a full library at my shower. The books were adorable, but I figured he wouldn’t need these until he was at least a couple of months (years?) old. (Are you shaking your head at me too?) The truth is, the importance of reading to newborns is immense.
When Should You Start Reading to Babies?
Obviously I was wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement in 2014 that recommended pediatricians encourage parents to read out loud to babies starting at BIRTH.
Hey, I was an English major, so I get it. I like to read. However, I didn’t see why it was necessary to start immediately. I mean, newborns can’t really even see, can they?
What Are the Advantages of Reading to Newborns?
Well, according to the AAP, setting aside quality, device-free time talking, reading, or even singing (though nobody wants that from me) is important. It exposes your baby to a greater vocabulary, pictures, and the written word which in turn enhances language development, bonding, literacy, and social-emotional skills.
Unlike using a device where children passively look at a screen and no (or little) context is provided, reading requires human interaction. Parents and children have each other’s undivided attention because no sound is made until the parent begin to read aloud. A child can point, laugh, react, and ask questions about what is on the page.
Another key element that makes reading beneficial is snuggle time. Parent and child must sit closely to read, often with the child on his/her parent’s lap, mommy or daddy’s arms around him, turning the pages. These close human interactions are crucial for development.
Formal Language is Different
Even if you are mindful about narrating your child’s day and talking to her often, there is a difference between formalized language that is written (and professionally edited and published) and the way we speak in everyday life.
“Baby so big!” “Get the milk. The milk!” “Eww, stinky boy!” Not really exciting.
Compare this to nursery rhymes. They contain so many words I forgot I knew, such as: knave, gander, whither, fare, whey. The list goes on. Even though you rarely use those terms in everyday life, that’s sort of the point. There is word play, rhymes, phonemes, patterns, and cadence of speech that are whimsical. It will also help when your baby becomes a student and learns about the patterns of speech. My mom reported that her kindergartners recently had little previous exposure to rhymes.
And that’s great for your kid’s future and all, but you know who’s it good for right now? You. And the baby.
Do It Because It’s Fun
I think doing things for fun right now is pretty worthwhile.
It’s fun to re-read these stories and hear these words I forgot about and see the world from a child’s point of view. I lived so long as an adult that I forgot that wearing pajamas, and learning to hop, and digging in sand were new and wonderful experiences. It’s all there in between those thick pages of board books.
The books W seemed to connect with most as an infant were the simplest of the simple. They were basically picture books with one large graphic (contrasting colors are best) and only one or two words per page (so it went pretty quickly). We started only reading one or two per night, but quickly he seemed to look forward to it.
Finally, it helps set up a great bedtime routine. My son took to reading much better than I would have expected. I’m pretty sure he just liked the turning of the pages, but now it helps lure him upstairs to bed. And that is reason enough to start reading early!
Q: What were your infant’s favorite books? Did you have a difficult time getting reading started? Why or why not?