Dear Dr. Debbie,
What’s all the fuss about reading books to babies? My in-laws gave us cardboard books as a gift for our newborn but it was at least eight months until she was at all interested in them. And that was mostly to try to open and close them while I was trying to read each page to her. Now that she’s a year old, she’s on the go more than on my lap. Should I be forcing her to sit through a story?
Isn’t It Too Early?
Don’t miss last week’s column Help children cope with the death of a pet — Good Parenting
According to continued research reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the subject, sharing books with babies is associated with wider vocabularies and better reading skills years later in kindergarten. It has long been recognized that just having more books in the home is a predictor of how well a child will do in school. It seems that if a family has lots of books, children may not only have role models who read books themselves – whether for information or for entertainment, but it is likely that the adults will be encouraging the children’s access to books as well. This starts with the adults reading to the children.
Tough Enough For Babies
Board books – made of cardboard, as well as vinyl books and cloth books, eliminate the risk of printed paper being torn by little hands. As you observed, a young baby is just getting the hang of how pages can be manipulated to expose different pictures. The content of these first books usually consists of photographs or simple drawings of objects with which a baby is familiar: faces, animals, clothes, and typical daily routines for a baby such as eating, dressing, and bath time. If you are looking to expand your home library, here are some titles to consider from a blog by School Library Journal featuring board books and other sturdy books that can take you into the preschool years.
A Tangible Goal
There is a nonprofit organization whose name suggests a goal for parents to achieve: 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten . The objectives are simply to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers and to encourage parent and child bonding through reading. Families can take the challenge to read these 1,000 books using one book each day to meet this easily managed goal in a little less than three years’ time. But don’t stop then! You can log your book journey with a list of titles if you like. By the way, if you follow your baby’s lead, reading the same book more than once is perfectly fine. When so much of the world is yet unknown, predictability is as valid a reason to read a book as is discovery.
As the website for 1,000 Books explains, “Early experiences and interactions are a key factor in a child’s brain development.” The rapidly growing brain is receiving, sorting, and storing bits of language, some of which may take years to find its way into a complete sentence. Swimmy had been a favorite read for my son and me, and may have been first introduced to his younger sister when she was still in the womb. At age two, I was bowled over when she asked, borrowing straight from the text by Leo Lionni, “Mommy, can I go out and play in the midday sun?” If you want to stretch your child’s vocabulary and enrich her worldview, books are an excellent habit to cultivate in the first years of life.
Don’t expect to read from cover to cover just yet. Even at age two, children will often want to flip back and forth through a book to look at and talk about the pictures. Aim to hold her attention for a scant minute or two until you can work your way up to reading a whole picture book together. Even though your daughter doesn’t yet speak, ask her questions about what she sees. “Does that truck look like Grandpa’s truck?” “Do you remember when we saw chickens like that? What did they say?” Animal noises are a popular theme of early picture books, probably because these sounds are often easier for a baby to imitate than words are. Add lots of expression when you read to hold her interest. And look for books that match her interests to begin with. Most of all, keep it fun.
Taking Time to Read
The best way to have books in your day, besides just having them around in the first place, is to put them in your child’s daily routine. Books can be kept near your baby’s toys in a playroom or her bedroom for quick access when she’s ready to sit still for a bit during play time. They might be placed in the living room or family room on the lower shelf of a bookcase (with precious paper books up out of reach) so that you or she can grab one when you feel like snuggling. Keep a couple in the car in case you find yourselves in a doctor’s waiting room that doesn’t have any books. You might want some books in or near the kitchen for passing time together while dinner is in the oven. Many parents use books at bedtime for establishing a close and cozy connection before their little ones drift into dreamland.
Sharing books can be a social experience! Catch the passion for books from the professionals in an audience of other babies and their accompanying grownups. Anne Arundel County Library has regularly scheduled sessions of Babies in Bloom and Toddler Story Time. Babies are also welcome at Art and Story Time at Chesapeake Children’s Museum every Friday at 10:30 am.
Embrace books in your child’s young life so she can soon learn to love them too.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.