Reading is important. We all know this. But is it important to read to babies? Will they even notice? Will it make a difference? YES! It is never too early to start! Here are some ideas to help teach your baby to love reading from an early age.
1. Start sooner than you think you should
You’d be hard-pressed to teach an 18-month-old how to read, and a newborn isn’t going to know the difference between you reading and you babbling at her. So why read to them when they’re so young? Because it helps you form a habit of reading to them. That habit will prove beneficial down the road when they reach an age where they can learn to read, when they start writing their first book reports, and on through their school years. If you start reading to them daily from day one, you’re more likely to keep reading to them as they grow.
But what do you read to an infant? Simple. Skip the picture books and find something you want to read. Before my oldest turned one, we made it through The Hobbit and the entire Harry Potter series, one chapter at a time, as I nursed her before bed. Hit up the library, find yourself a good novel or memoir or self-help book, and read it aloud to your baby. If you have older kids, read age-appropriate books to them and baby at the same time. Hooray for double-dipping!
2. Make it a daily routine
Children thrive on predictability, so don’t just make a habit of reading to them every day; make a habit of reading to them at a certain time every day. Whether that is right after breakfast, before nap time, or after you get home from work is not important. What matters is that you make it part of your daily routine. You might be surprised at how much you both look forward to your fifteen minute break from the busyness of the day to snuggle and read together.
3. Choose books with bold, bright pictures and/or rhythmic, rhyming words
Once your baby becomes more social, you’ll probably want to put down Bossypants and start reading picture books together. Even before they fully understand the words you’re reading, they’ll appreciate great illustrations. Bright images are help stimulate brain development, and they help make books more interesting and memorable. Interactive books — such as Pat the Bunny or this pop-up version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar –are also great entertainment for short attentions spans.
As language develops, rhythm and rhyme will start to interest your baby as much as the pictures do. Don’t you think simple song lyrics are much easier to remember than long, boring sentences? Your baby feels the same way. He is more likely to be engaged if the story has a sing-song quality to it. He is also more likely to start memorizing those words later on, which is a good first step toward reading.
4. Read the same books over and over
It’s good to read a variety of books with your baby, but choose a few that you rotate through every few days. I have probably read Green Eggs and Ham and Goodnight Moon a thousand times, but my girls still love them. Repeatedly reading old favorites is not only comforting, but as language develops it will help them start to memorize the words. As I mentioned before, that is a good first step toward learning to read.
5. Make it fun!
Let’s face it: a lot of children’s books are boring for adults, especially if you are reading them over and over and over again. So shake things up a little. Share a bowl of strawberries while reading The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. Do an overly dramatic reading of Llama Llama Red Pajama. Sing when you read Miss Mary Mack. (Come on…you remember how the tune goes!) Use puppets or stuffed animals to act out a story, or pretend to have them read it instead of you. Whatever you do, have fun with it. Your baby will be delighted at your antics, and you’ll be actively engaged instead of bored out of your gourd.
The takeaway here is that if you want your baby to learn to love reading, you should love reading too. And the only way for your baby to see that is for you to show her how much you enjoy it. So don’t be afraid to get silly and have some fun!
Jen is the mother of two sweet girls; her days are filled with Dr. Seuss books and laundry, block castles and pink tutus. Reading is her first passion. Finding and testing out delicious recipes is a close second. She and her husband are working on making their fixer-upper home into something amazing. It’s a satisfying but painfully slow process. Read more from Jen at her blog: Nothing Can Come Of Nothing.