You probably know that it’s important to read to your children and have heard that starting earlier is better. But parents may feel rather silly reading aloud to a baby or to a 6-month-old who would rather chew on books or a toddler who can’t sit still and listen to the story.
It may seem that babies and toddlers do not understand us, but they are actually listening and learning. Reading to young children from birth helps them acquire language, emergent literacy and social skills. How does that happen?
It’s fascinating how when your baby listens to words in the earliest months of their life, the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language becomes stimulated.
A brain scan study found that reading at home with children from an early age was strongly correlated with brain activation in areas connected with visual imagery and understanding the meaning of language.
Kenneth Wible, a paediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, says that although your newborn does not understand what you're saying, they will still pick up the rhythm, tones and inflections of your voice.
Studies have also shown that children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary, as well as more advanced mathematical skills compared to other children their age.
A study by Ohio State University discovered that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to.
By the time your child turns one, they would have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language. The more stories you have read to them, the more words your baby will hear and build a rich network of words in their brain, which results in them being able to speak better.
SHOW YOUR CHILDREN THAT READING IS FUN
You play an important role in making reading fun for your children and not a chore that has to be done for school.
Make it a part of their daily routine and incorporate fun elements such as play-acting or finger puppets so as to foster a love of reading that will continue throughout their life.
As you inject joy and excitement by creating a special reading time with your child, they will associate books with happiness and develop a love and habit for reading that will stay with them, even into adulthood.
TALK ABOUT BOOKS WHENEVER YOU CAN
Talking to children about a book as you share it together is just as important as reading the words to them.
While you discuss the pictures, characters and what is happening in the story, your child is learning how the world works and developing important language skills such as comprehension, listening and speaking at the same time.
Talking about books doesn’t have to only happen during reading time. It can take place anywhere – at the bus stop, while travelling, or during mealtimes. Help your child make connections between what takes place in the book and the things they are doing or happening in the world around them.
There’s no better time to start reading to your child than the moment they arrive in this world. If you’ve missed reading to them in the early months, you can still catch up by starting on books as soon as possible.
After all, your child’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing as much from the environment as possible.