When my daughter Alice made her entrance into the world just over a year ago, I wasn’t aware just how important reading aloud to children, even the littlest ones, is. I am a lifelong book lover, so of course I was going to read to her, and I knew reading was a powerful thing. But to a newborn?
Soon I started hearing, from my mother, from our pediatrician, from playgroup leaders, from online baby resources: Read to your baby, every day. Alice’s library was already a healthy size, even before she was born. So we began, Alice in her bouncy chair and me sitting next to her. She responded quickly, really paying attention to the pages in front of her. Soon she began to prefer bright colors to softer neutrals, and short board books to larger picture books. Favorite books began to emerge. Reading also became part of our bedtime ritual, which allowed Dad to get involved.
The Association for Library Service to Children notes that “Reading is as important to a child’s growth and development as food and water. . . Babies who are read to in the first nine months of their lives are better prepared for school than babies who had little interaction with books.” Arizona’s First Things First program lists 6 Suggestions to Help Encourage Learning, and number one is Read to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers every day!
So much of the brain develops in the first few years of life that it is almost too late once a child starts school to set the stage for reading and other skills. Reading aloud not only gives children regular exposure to print and language, but it instills in them positive feelings about books and reading. Reading with your children shouldn’t be a chore; it should be a happy time of cuddling, laughter, and adventure.
And we shouldn’t stop there. Continuing to read aloud to children who have learned to read themselves is still very beneficial. I have fond memories of my fifth grade teacher reading aloud to the class from novels. In fact, the entire class would listen to her with rapt attention, engrossed in the story.
I also discovered that it’s never too early to take your child to the library. Check with your local library: they likely offer a storytime program for babies and toddlers in age-appropriate groups. Storytime isn’t just listening to a librarian read: it’s an interactive time for parents and children full of songs, rhymes, movement, and of course, a story. Don’t forget to check out some board books or picture books while you’re at the library, to add some variety to your storytime at home.
Rather than following the latest fad or product that promises to develop smarter babies, try the time-tested and inexpensive method of reading aloud. It is one of the most important things you can do for your child.
For more information, I encourage you to check out these excellent resources on reading aloud.
Stay tuned tomorrow for some suggestions, both from me and from the experts, on great books to read to the little ones in your life.