Why reading to your baby is so important
By Tyson Tidwell, DO
Jul 27, 2020
Updated Oct 25, 2023
5 min read
Researchers have found that reading books to babies can boost vocabulary and reading skills even before the start of elementary school and that book reading quality during infancy was a good predictor or early reading skills. They also found that a combination of book reading quality and quantity during toddler years was a good predictor of literacy skills, like name writing, by age four.
Hold your child in your arms and read with emotion. Infants as young as a few days or weeks old can know and prefer their parents’ voices and faces. Although they may not understand words, they’ll respond to the emotion in your voice and the expression on your face. They love to look at pictures with bright colors and feel secure when they’re in your arms.
Choose colorful and sturdy books. As babies get older, they’ll reach out to hold a book and then put it into their mouths to explore it. Board books and books made of fabric or with thicker pages are more durable for very young children. You can borrow children’s books for free from your local library or purchase some of your own. Look for colorful illustrations or photos. Some books have things with texture that can be touched, which makes them even more interesting.
Ask your pediatrician about the Reach Out and Read program which offers free books starting at your baby’s 6 month well visit. You can receive a free book at your child’s well check visits through age five, for a total of eight free books.
Active young children may lose interest in a book after only 1-2 minutes. Follow their lead, but keep reading, talking, and singing with your baby regularly and his interest and attention span will grow. Make this a special time. Give your baby your full attention. Turn off the TV and computers and put down your phone.
As babies grow into toddlers, reading aloud together can be a very helpful routine, especially when it’s part of your regular calming bedtime routine. Young children love having choices. Let them choose the book to read. Toddlers quickly develop favorites and may ask you to read the same story over and over, so offer choices you like too!
Toddlers can point to pictures of objects (Show me the tree) and answer questions (Which one says moo?) As their language grows, they may be able to name the pictures you point to or finish the sentences in a book. Sometimes they even pretend to read the book themselves. As they get older they learn to point to letters in the alphabet or to count some of the pictures.
Building routines for meals, play, and sleep help children know what to expect and what is expected of them. Incorporate reading into your day too, just like you would eating dinner or helping your child brush her teeth! Plan a half hour of quiet time where you can read together.
Even when your child can read by themselves, you can still read stories to them that are at a higher reading level than books they can read on their own. They will look forward to the next chapter and you will make lasting memories.