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Why it’s never too early to start reading to your baby

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Published on
January 22, 2024

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In amongst the feeding, nappy changing, settling, and cuddling – there is another daily habit that you should try to incorporate into your routine with your baby or child – reading books! It doesn’t matter if your baby doesn’t yet understand the words or that they might not yet be able to focus their eyes on the pictures. Reading to your baby has a multitude of benefits, including stimulating brain growth, enhancing their language development, and listening skills, as well as helping them to understand the world around them, and developing skills such as empathy and creativity.

Research has shown that children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary and more advanced mathematics skills than other kids their age. A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics in 2019, found that when caregivers read just one picture book a day, their baby was exposed to approximately 78,000 words each year. By the time children who read a book daily with their parents reach kindergarten at 5 years old, researchers estimated they would hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words than children who aren’t read to. This is important because being exposed to a larger vocabulary not only helps infants to develop speech and higher levels of literacy in later life, poor literacy skills in childhood have also been associated with more behavioural problems. It stands to reason that a child who struggles to communicate as well as their peers may feel frustrated and upset.

Reading to your child also provides an opportunity for physical closeness and some all-important one-on-one time. Setting aside special time in the day for this activity together promotes bonding and gives your child a sense of safety and security. Interestingly, this time to bond over a book can be equally beneficial for parents as it is for the child. A study in 2011 that examined the effects of a parent reading to their baby in the neonatal care unit  on parent-infant interaction found that ‘69% of the parents reported that reading helped them feel closer to their baby, and 86% reported it was enjoyable. Parents reported an increased sense of control and normalcy and increased intimacy with their infant.’

The main thing to remember when you are reading to your baby or child is to be led by them. You want the experience to be fun so that they develop positive associations around books and reading. This helps to pay the foundation for a life-long love of books and learning.

Tips for Reading with Your Baby or Toddler

  • Turn off all distractions such as the TV, your phone, or other devices.
  • Use reading time to cuddle with your child, and ensure they feel safe and connected.
  • Engage your child by using an expressive voice, or funny voices for different characters. Even though they may not yet understand the words, it helps them to distinguish between different tones and they often enjoy listening to repetition, rhymes, and songs. Don’t be afraid to get creative!  
  • Speaking of repetition – be prepared to read their favourite books over and over again. Although you might long to read something different, prepare to follow your child’s interests and don’t be surprised if they return to the same book each night. It can be a great confidence boost for them to anticipate what is coming next and join in. Baby babble is an important step in them learning to talk.
  • Incorporating reading into your bedtime routine can also be helpful, as it’s also a great way to wind down from the day and settle down for the evening.
  • Point out things in the picture and talk to them about it. Eventually, as they get older, they’ll point out things to you that interest them and start to ask questions. In this way, books are a great way for children to learn about concepts such as colours, shapes, letters, and numbers, as well as understand things about the world around them – which all build a good foundation for later learning.
  • Choose books that are age-appropriate in. For example, books made from board or plastic may be more suited to babies and younger children, as you can encourage them to touch and hold the book without fear of it being damaged. As your child grows you may want to incorporate flip books, or books that have different textures and materials on the page so that you can add a new dimension to their learning. Encourage them to really engage with the book and help to turn pages when they are able. In this way children learn other important motor skills and information on how books work such as how to start on the first page and move through the book chronologically and how we read the words on the page from left to right.  
  • When your child gets to the crawling/walking stage keep books on a low shelf so that they can easily access them just as they do their other toys. This way, they can select their own and bring one to you when the mood takes them.
  • Check out your local library. Not only can you access and/or borrow new books, local libraries often have free rhyme time or story time sessions that you can attend with your little one. This can also be a great way to meet other families with young children.

So, there you have it. Not only is reading with your child from birth a great way to connect with them and strengthen your bond, it can also hugely benefit their cognitive and social development. Just be prepared to read ‘Where’s the Green Sheep?’ for 99 nights in a row!