Studies show that early reading and language skills are a strong predictor of future literacy and academic skills.1,2 To love reading is truly a gift and can be fostered by parents and caregivers!
Reading to your baby is a beautiful way to bond with your baby before they even understand language. Research tells us that babies hear mommy’s voice resonating through her body while still in utero, and babies show familiarity with mommy’s voice when they are two months old.3,4 These are great reasons to start reading to your baby before they are even born. When parents begin to read to babies before they are born, they form the habit, and it becomes easier to integrate reading into the routine.
After babies are born, they benefit from having books read to them as newborns. Even before babies can converge their eyes to look at pictures or understand words, babies benefit from being read to because they are listening and starting to form a foundation for their language.
As babies get older and can sit up and attend to books, you can practice a few strategies to make books and reading more interactive and exciting.
- Provide babies with board books and plastic books that they can put in their mouths and explore and be comfortable with from a very young age.
- Read your baby interactive books that encourage sensory exploration, such as lift-the-flap books and tactile books with textures to feel. Encourage your baby to reach out and look under the flaps, touch each texture, and talk about how it feels. Is the bunny soft or rough? Is the frog smooth or bumpy?
As you read to your child, pause between pages to ask questions.
- Through questions, you can determine how much your child is comprehending. Ask them who is riding on the train and why. Ask them how the puppy got locked out and see how your child interprets the story.
- As you read to your child, pause to talk about feelings and emotions. Ask them questions such as, is the boy happy or sad? Why is he sad?
- As you read to your child, relate the story to him and his life. Say something like, “This boy lost his balloon up in the sky. Do you remember when you lost your balloon? How did that make you feel? Why were you sad? Does he look sad? How can you tell that he is sad?”
Encourage your child to read to you.
- Even if your child does not know how to read, they probably have a few books memorized. By reciting the book back to you or narrating what they see in the picture, they are “reading,” which is a great skill. Encourage this because it stimulates their imagination and sense of self and confidence. Praise them for reading to you and make it a habit.
- Model reading books to your child and a stuffed animal, and then encourage your child to read the same book to the stuffed animal while you cook dinner. This challenges your child’s memory and storytelling skills and is excellent for her literacy and grammar.
- Set an example by reading your books in front of your child. Allow her to see you reading a book and briefly tell her what your book is about. Read the newspaper or magazines in front of her and mention what you read.
Read aloud from your books, magazines, and newspapers.
- Even if your child is too young to understand the content, hearing your voice and the rhythm of your reading is building those essential brain connections for new learning.
- As your child gets older, make books together. Make photo books and come up with captions together. Write a story together and have your child illustrate it.
- Make up stories and tell them to your child and encourage your child to tell you stories. This fosters a love of storytelling. Talk about how a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
As your child gets ready to go to preschool or kindergarten and works on their reading skills, you can encourage literacy and letter recognition at home.
- Write sight words on postcards and hang them around the house on the items they represent.
- Ask your child to read words on signs, billboards, cereal boxes, and magazine articles.
- Talk about sounds that letters make.
- Talk about interesting things you read that day and ask your child if she read anything interesting.
- Sign your child up for storytime at a library or recreation center.
- Stress the importance of reading by asking your child what book their teacher read to her that day. Ask her about plot points, characters, and ask her how the book ends.
Reading is a life skill that starts at birth or earlier.
It is cultivated by parents who understand the value and make it a priority every day. Most libraries allow children to get their first library card at age four or five, and taking a child to the library to pick out their books is very empowering for the child. Make reading a priority in your house, and give your child the gift of the love of reading!