Maybe you dutifully go to the library and bring home chunky baby books with beautiful pictures–only to find your child is more interested in biting the books than reading them. Maybe you want to give up on trying to get your baby to sit still so you can read to her–she can’t understand the stories yet anyway. However, a new study shows your efforts to read to even your very young baby are not in vain: Being read to as an infant is associated with better literacy later in childhood.
The New York University study followed nearly 250 mother-child pairs for up to four years. It found that babies who were read to at age 6 months had better vocabulary skills at age 4.
Toddlers who were read to at 24 months had further improved vocabulary skills, early reading skills, and other literacy skills at age 4.
“Reading to babies teaches them ways to communicate and helps them build listening, memory and vocabulary skills,” explained Dr. Cynthia Gellner, MD. Gellner is a pediatrician with University of Utah Health. She is also the medical coordinator for the Reach Out and Read literacy program at the Westridge Clinic in West Valley City.
“Young children are like little intellectual sponges–they soak up all the information in their environment,” Gellner said. She explained that “90% of brain development occurs during [the] first few years of life.”
It’s also important that young children start to develop positive associations with reading and books. These initial associations can lead kids to love reading throughout childhood. Early on, your infant won’t understand the stories you read, but looking at pictures and bonding with you builds positive feelings about books.
How should you start reading to your baby?
Gellner recommends reading to your child for at least 20 minutes each day. It’s valuable to read to a child of any age, but especially to children aged 6 months to 5 years.
“Make it part of the child’s bedtime routine,” Gellner suggests. “It helps them with their sleep behaviors by having a good bedtime ritual, and it’s a great time for bonding with parents.”
When reading, try to keep your child engaged by pointing out and naming parts of the pictures or by commenting on what’s happening in the story. You should also try to choose age-appropriate books your child might be interested in. For infants, look for books with large, bright pictures or activities.
About the author:
Emily Sundquist is an intern at the Office of Public Affairs at University of Utah Health. She is an undergraduate at Williams College studying Biology and Mathematics.