Reading to babies can seem silly at times. When a baby is not yet talking, you might wonder if they are able to take anything in. It might feel like a waste of time. Yet, there is a lot of literature that says that reading to babies is crucial for many aspects of their development.
Here are some tips to optimise your reading for your baby’s development and enjoyment.
1. Choose books with no words
It may seem counter-intuitive but, in terms of aiding language development, choosing books without words is a great way to go. This is largely because of your own reading behaviour. When you are reading from set text, you can get stuck just reading through the book without taking the time to stop, point things out, discuss what is happening, and relate the story back to your child’s own experiences. With wordless books, you are much more likely to have an active, engaged experience.
2. When a book has words, steer away from the text
There are lots of great books for children with interesting stories and clever rhymes. Great children’s books are also well designed with repetition and rich vocabulary to help developing brains. So, of course, it is useful to read the text. As adults, that’s what we’re programmed to do so it’s probably inevitable that we’ll read exactly what the words say at least the first time around.
Once you get to the second, or third, or four hundredth read through it is a great idea to steer away from the text. Pretend that there are no words and tell your own story.
3. Make your reading interactive
Use the book as a vehicle for talking about things in your baby’s life. For instance, if there is a dog in the book you could talk about your own dog, or a dog you saw at the park. Point things out in the pictures and name the things that you see. If your baby is at an age where he or she can point to things, ask them if they can point to the tree, or the bird, or the rainbow.
A great way of making your reading time interactive is to have some books that you have made yourself. So, you could have a book that just has the faces of people you know. Then you can point to grandma, and talk about how she looks happy. Point to her eyes and nose and mouth. Or point to daddy and talk about his red shirt. Talk about something you did with daddy today. All of these things helps your baby to make connections between words and the world around them.
4. Only read when your baby is interested
When you’ve been told that you should read to your child for at least ten minutes every day, it may be tempting to get through that time, or at least through one book, even if your child is fussing or looking away. However, forcing a child to stay on your lap while you continue to read is not beneficial for development and can actually be detrimental as the child begins to associate negative experiences with reading.
5. Choose books you both enjoy
When choosing books, think about books that you will enjoy reading, as well as books that your child will enjoy listening to. Babies can pick up on attitudes and emotions. If you are happy, enthusiastic, and engaged in the reading yourself, your baby is much more likely to have a positive experience. For very young babies, you can even try just reading them whatever you happen to be reading yourself. They will benefit from hearing your voice, and the language. The content isn’t as important as the attitude.
6. Read early and often
It’s never too early to read to your children. Try and get into the habit of reading to them everyday, from as early in their life as possible. Not only will you be fostering a love of reading and enhancing their cognitive development, but you will also be nurturing your own bond with them as you share special times with books.
Did you read to your babies? What are your favourite books for babies?