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Why You Should Bother Reading to Your Teeny Tiny Baby

My go-to gift for new babies is always books. In my work as a literacy instructor, I’m admittedly obsessed with children’s book and literature. Let’s help them stock their library! You can’t have too many books!

It might seem odd to be giving a new baby piles of books when they’re so young and blob-y, but reading to your baby even in the earliest months is incredibly important, not just for baby, but for you. Here are just a few reasons it’s worth reading to your tiny nugget right from the get-go:

Exposure

Even though babies at this age have no language yet, we grownups can still marinate them in language and words. When we read to our babies, we’re not only exposing them to new words, but to the way language sounds, which helps their rapidly growing brains develop language more quickly. There are so many reasons why this is important, not the least of which is that babies exposed to more words have richer vocabularies even by age three and are more prepared to start school.

The sound of our voice when we read is often a bit different than it is when we talk, which is actually important. I often found it easier to express surprise, delight, or excitement when I read about red apples, brown bears, or bright shoes than when I was just speaking. Babies really respond to that sing-song quality in our voices, and reading books gave me a purpose for filling my voice with emotion. Plus, they learn that different sounds mean different things, and reading a book helps us match feelings and meaning to words, objects, and actions in authentic ways.

Bonding

Reading with babies isn’t just a time to enrich their brains, it is also a time to really connect one-on-one. Babies love hearing the sound of their parents’ voices, and the cadence of book language can be especially soothing. Holding your baby close and reading together also creates moments of intimacy around books, which means he or she will start associating books with LOVE. This association — between books and love — helps set our children on a pathway of being lifelong readers.

Access to bountiful, beautiful words to say

We know we should be exposing our baby to language as much as possible, but it’s not easy to keep a patter going all day! I was so grateful to have books that I could read — full of luscious language that my new-mom-brain could never have accessed otherwise since it was busy focusing on other things like FIGURING OUT HOW TO OPERATE ON FOUR HOURS OF SLEEP. I could sit and read books such as Mem Fox’s Time for Bed, or Margaret Brown Wise’s Goodnight Moon (I probably read that one hundreds of times, and still think it’s sort of perfect) and surrender myself to the soothing rhymes and sweet messages, knowing that what I was doing was great for my babies’ brains — even though it wasn’t altogether obvious at the moment why.

Hot tip:  Go ahead and read your own stuff!

Good news: Little babies love to hear the expression in your voice no matter what you read! So feel free to catch up on your novel (or People magazine) by reading them aloud to baby, too. It’s win-win: baby gets exposed to words and language, and you stay up to date on your book club selection (or, um… not book club selection). And enjoy this while you can, because pretty soon, your little reader will have his or her own very strong opinions about what to read, and you just might get overruled.



Rebecca Bellingham is a literacy consultant and instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Check out her TED Talk on the importance of reading aloud to children. She lives in San Diego with her husband and twins.