One of the most important methods to grow your baby’s language skills involves just three things: you, your child, and a book.
There are several reasons that reading with your baby is so impactful. For one, research shows that children who hear more language will eventually learn and use more language. Consider this mind-blowing stat: One study revealed that when parents read just one book a day to their kiddo, by the time that child enters kindergarten, they’ve heard a total of 1.4 million more words than children who aren’t read to.
Books stimulate the imagination. They expand children’s vocabulary and help them develop listening and comprehension skills. And as your child’s communication skills develop, that helps set the foundation for success in the classroom. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, children with communication problems are more likely to struggle with reading and writing skills. These problems can also affect their social development and their ability to express themselves.
So what does this all mean when you add it up? That it’s pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of reading to your child routinely. In fact, as caregivers, there are few greater gifts we can give our children than the love of reading.
Tips for reading with your baby
It seems pretty straightforward, right? You and your child cuddle up with a book and start turning pages. But there are specific techniques you can use while you read to strengthen language development.
First of all, it’s never too early to start. You can begin reading to your child in infancy simply to establish the routine, which builds good habits that will benefit them a lifetime. Infants can listen to the different tones in your voice, hear the sounds that you say, and begin to learn new words. Plus, it’s bonding time for the two of you (even if one of you ends up gnawing on the book).
As your baby gets older, reading serves a more direct purpose in speech and language development. As you read, keep it interesting by using different tones of voice. Make sure to repeat the words and sounds you’d like to emphasize, and say them slowly to help them stick.
Around the 6-month mark, it’s common for your child to begin imitating simple sounds after you. And what better way to do this than by reading a book together! If your baby verbalizes while reading with you, respond to what they say. It’s completely okay to go a little off-script from the words on the page! Responding to your baby’s vocalizations will encourage them to talk more.
As you read with your baby, point to correlating pictures in the book. Around your child’s first birthday, you may notice that they begin to point to what you’re talking about in the pictures. This can be an exciting milestone! You can ask them, “Where is the duck?” and prompt them to point. Making animal sounds is likely to follow!
When your child reaches the stage of trying to imitate words in the book, have them watch your mouth as you speak. Try sitting face-to-face with your toddler as you read so that they can watch your mouth movements. And don’t forget to offer lots of praise and encouragement when those words start coming!
How to choose books to read with your baby
Some books are better for reading with your baby than others. Look for books with big, bright pictures on topics your child loves, such as animals, cars, or a favorite character.
Try to select books with rhyming words, as this helps kiddos stay engaged as well as learn similarities between sounds and words. Also aim for books that have repetitive words and sentences. Your child will benefit from hearing them over and over.
Here are some favorites to consider adding to your library:
Touch and Feel - Animals
First 100 Words
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Little Blue Truck
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?
Go, Dog, Go
There’s one reading-related question I often get from parents: “My child wants to read the same book over and over again; what do I do?”
While saying goodnight to the moon yet again might not be your first choice, there’s real value in re-reading the same books. It may seem like you’re limiting your child’s exposure to new words or pictures. But since your child already loves the book, they’ll be motivated and engaged while you read. In addition, reading the same book helps children better absorb and learn the words and sentences on the page, as well as the words’ connection to the pictures.
Make reading part of your routine
You can never have too much reading, but try to read at least one book a day to your baby. It may help to pick a specific time of day, such as before bedtime, after naptime, or after getting dressed in the morning. Creating a routine will not only help you remember to read with your little one, but also help your baby look forward to storytime!
And when it comes to filling your child’s bookshelf, think beyond buying books online. You and your child can discover new titles together with regular library visits or trips to bookstores (which may offer free storytime events for kids, too). Secondhand stores are another good bet for finding books. And many towns now have Little Libraries scattered around neighborhoods, offering free literary treats for anyone who stops to look.
Read frequently with your little one and, before you know it, they’ll be the ones reading to you!