It's never too early. Babies recognize their mother's voice in the womb — so why not make reading aloud a habit while you're still pregnant?
And once your baby arrives, reading to your newborn is a must. Your baby won't understand your words, but hearing your voice stimulates an interest in sounds and helps him develop listening skills.
Plus, no matter what your baby's age, reading together is a great opportunity for cuddling and bonding. By developing a regular reading routine from the start, books become a natural part of your child's day — one that he'll associate with fun.
Why is reading good for my baby?
Reading to your baby helps build vocabulary, stimulates imagination, and improves communication skills. The more you speak to your child from the get-go, the better it is for her growth and development.
A running commentary on the state of the neighborhood during a walk or naming your child's body parts as you bathe her are good ways to talk to her. Reading is another way to increase the verbal interactions you have with your child.
Reading to your baby introduces her to the concepts of stories, numbers, letters, colors, and shapes, and gives her information about the world around her. It also builds memory and vocabulary skills. By the time she's a year old, your baby has already learned all the sounds she needs to speak her native language. The more words she hears, the better she'll be able to talk.
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What should I read to my infant?
For the first few months, your infant picks up on the rhythm of language — rather than the content — as he hears you speak. Repetition is good because it helps your baby build language skills. And to keep it interesting, vary the pitch of your voice or use different voices for different characters. But really, when it comes to reading materials, anything goes — magazines, or even that novel you've been trying to finish.
Your baby may also be fascinated by pictures with bright colors and sharp contrast, so get plenty of board books and picture books.
The most important thing is that your baby is making a connection between the things he loves the most — your closeness and your voice — and books. This shows him that reading is enjoyable and important.
You don't have to get all the way through a book, either. Just taking a few minutes here and there to read aloud to your child can make a difference.
What types of books are best for an older baby?
Let your child be the judge. She'll probably end up having several that will become favorites, and she'll light up with excitement every time you get them out.
Books with colorful drawings and catchy phrases are sure to please. Some children prefer books with photographs, while others like books with built-in activities — images hidden under flaps or behind sliding partitions, for example. Your baby may also enjoy the singsong rhythm and playful wording of nursery rhymes. They're easy to remember, so you can chant them during daily routines ("Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub").
Once you've explored a favorite type of book, try another. Your baby's sure to enjoy something completely different every once in a while.
Don't choose anything too delicate, though. Babies love to grab and mouth everything they can reach, so board books or those with heavy-duty pages can endure the most wear and tear.
What about audio books and other media?
Babies need to feel an emotional connection with the words being spoken or they simply filter out the language, so steer clear of audio books as well as computers, television, and radio. "As with all activities parents do with kids, it's how attentive parents are to their kids' responses that is so critical," says Betty Hart, professor emeritus of human development at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Experts say television and other forms of electronic media are best reserved for children over age 2.
"Putting babies in front of a machine is alienating," says Eveline Carsman, editor of Children's Review Newsletter. In her opinion, television shows aimed at young babies have no redeeming qualities that compensate for babies being left alone to watch them. Even educational TV isn't as enriching as playing games, figuring out how a toy works, or having story time with you.
Should I teach my baby sounds and letters?
When you read to your young child, focus on the pleasure at hand, not the alphabetical learning experience. An early emphasis on teaching letters, sounds, and syllables can sap the enjoyment right out of story time.
If you read to your child enough, she'll eventually — when she's ready — make the connection between the sounds of words and the letters on the pages. In the meantime, teaching her to enjoy reading is a much more valuable lesson than nailing phonics at an early age.
How do babies get the most out of reading?
The interaction you have with your child is the key to making the most out of reading. Help your child make connections in the story and associations in real life.
For example, if there's a yellow ball in the book you're reading, point to the red ball he likes to play with and ask him a question: "Do you like the yellow ball or the red ball best?" Go ahead and tell him the answer for now: "I think you like the red ball better than the yellow ball because you can play with it."
Before you know it, he'll surprise you with his own answer!