by Ruth A. Wilson, Ph.D.
Want your child to do well in school? Start reading to your child while he or she is still an infant. Concerned that your baby won’t understand what you’re reading? That’s OK, because even infants gain from being read to.
Becoming a Nation of Readers, published in 1985, asserted that reading aloud is the single most important activity for creating the background necessary for eventual success in reading. This same report made the recommendation that parents should start reading to their child during infancy. More recent publications, including What the Research Really Says about Teaching and Learning to Read, published by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2008, reaffirm the assertions and recommendations of the 1985 report.
To make the most of reading time with your baby, a few simple guidelines are helpful. Baby Read-Aloud Basics, by Carolyn J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez, offers a number of read-aloud principles focusing on how to make reading with infants and toddlers a fun, interactive, and learning experience. These four tips on reading with your baby are based on their principles.
1. Hold and cuddle your baby when you read. Reading should always be a pleasant experience for both you and your baby. Holding your baby close while you read will help your child associate reading and books with something that he enjoys.
2. Choose books your child enjoys. Many children, including infants, have favorite books. Follow your child’s lead in what you choose to read, even if this means reading a favorite book over and over (and over). Your child will enjoy seeing pictures and hearing words that have become familiar. Repeated readings will also foster your child’s language development.
3. Start reading at any page and don’t be concerned about reading all the words in a book. Reading with your baby should be a shared experience. Observe your child closely and follow her lead about what and how much to read. It’s simply not important to read every page and every word.
4. Use "parentese" when reading and talking to your baby. Parentese (sometimes called “motherese”) is a special way most people talk to babies without even thinking about it. Parents, grandparents, friends, and even preschool children often use this sing-song type of speech when they talk to a baby. This is true regardless of culture or native tongue.
Parentese usually involves a higher pitched tone, frequent use of repetition, lengthened vowels (sooo big), shorter sentences, and longer pauses. Parentese is often accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions and rhythmic body movements.
There are distinct advantages to using parentese versus “adult talk” with babies. Infants direct more attention to the melodious sound of parentese and pay closer attention to the language. This, in turn, fosters their speech and language development. More information is available in the article “Using Motherese and Parentese with Infants” on Bright Hub, a science, technology, health, and education website.
Blakemore and Ramirez also have a Read to Your Baby website with more information relating to their Baby Read-Aloud Basics book. Included is a listing of these 10 benefits of reading with your baby:
The children’s librarian at your public library is another excellent source of information on how and what to read to your baby. Many libraries offer story time sessions, including sessions for babies. These sessions can be enjoyed by both babies and parents.
You may also wish to check out another book focusing on reading with babies. Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos by Susan Straub and KJ Dell'Antonia is a reader-friendly guide for parents on what to read, when to read, and how to read to children from birth to age 3.
Dr. Ruth Wilson is an educational consultant and curriculum writer. Her primary areas of expertise are early childhood environmental education and peace education.