In my years as an elementary school teacher, I saw the benefits of reading aloud to my students everyday first hand. It sparked their creativity, increased their vocabulary and grammar, improved their attention span, stimulated their interest in new ideas, promoted communication skills and gave us a platform to discuss the world we live in. Read-aloud also brought me closer to the children and gave us a common bond.
After my daughter, Eleanor, was born last summer, I started researching and thinking about how these same benefits would apply to read-aloud with babies. Studies have shown that language skills – and even intelligence – are related to how many words an infant hears each day. Certainly talking with our babies gives them tremendous language skills, but research shows that talking in addition to reading aloud exposes babies to new words, the sound of language, and gives them fundamental literacy skills they will build upon their entire life.
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, writes, “If the child has never heard the word, the child will never say the word; and if you have neither heard it nor said it, it’s pretty tough to read it and to write it.”
All this information gave me new found passion to read with Eleanor everyday. However, I quickly realized that reading with my infant is much different that reading with third graders! Over the past few months, I have found some great ways to keep her engaged with books and make reading part of our routine. Here are some tips to help you enjoy read-aloud with your littlest bambino.
• Before your baby is four months old, it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you are reading! During this time, I read Harry Potter aloud to Eleanor when she was nursing.
• For your baby’s first year, book selections should stimulate your child’s sight and hearing – colorful illustrations and exciting, rhythmic sounds upon which your baby can focus easily. Jim Trelease says, “One of the reasons for Mother Goose’s success is that she echoes the first sound a child falls in love with—the rhythmic, rhyming “beat-beat-beat” of a mother’s heart.”
• Don’t worry about reading the entire book – the plot is not what is important to babies. Instead read as long as they are interested, even if it is only a few minutes. Studies show babies’ attention span for books is an average of three minutes!
• When reading with infants, one of the goals is looking, not reading. Talk about the pictures. Name objects and colors; count repeated images.
• For a baby, part of reading is touching the pages and chewing on them! Choose durable board and cloth books to allow your baby to explore and play with.
• Another goal is conversation. Ask questions, say what you think will happen next, and laugh. Even though your baby cannot answer you, she will someday!
• As you read, move your finger beneath the words and point to the pictures. This will help your baby connect that your spoken words are related to the text in the book.
• Make read-aloud a special time of bonding. Hold your baby close as you read to him. Whisper the words in her ear. Cuddle him to show that reading is a time of bonding.
• Make reading a part of your daily routine. Eleanor and I read every morning after breakfast and my husband reads to her every night before bed.
• Read the same book for a few days in a row. Babies love the repetition and will gain familiarity with the pattern of the book over time.
Below are some of the books I recommend reading with your baby. They meet my criteria–colorful illustrations, wonderful rhythm and rhyme…and most importantly hold Eleanor’s attention!
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Time for Bed by Mem Fox
Baby’s Hug-a-Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear (Child’s Play Library) by Don and Audrey Wood
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
You can read more from Rachel at her blog called Somebody Come and Play.