Baby Book Club: The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Infant

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(Photo: iStock)

Break out the baby books! Recent studies show it’s never too early to start reading aloud to your children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading to babies as young as four months improves brain development and vocabulary.

In their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Dr. Betty Hart and Dr. Todd Risley suggest books of all kinds are incredibly helpful to a wee one’s cognitive development. Whether it’s Curious George or a Dostoyevsky classic, they suggest that children who are read aloud to or conversed with hear at least 30 million more words than children who are not read to on a daily basis.

While singing your favorite tunes or even just talking during their first days is crucial for emotional and intellectual growth, reading aloud prepares children for academic readiness, long-term achievement and of course, a love for books.

Bonding time
There are plenty of ways to connect with your child, but recent studies have found one-on-one activities like reading aloud transform such dynamics into a very special bond. As an intimate experience producing important lessons in behavior and emotion, the Journal of Perinatal Educationsuggests reading aloud heightens intimacy — especially as your baby grows exposed to the sounds and rhythms of your voice. For babies in the newborn care intensive unit, this kind of involvement transcends the physicality and allows parents to stay closely connected to their child.

Prepare them for reading on their own
In addition to nurturing a sense of security, the imagination and communication skills of infants become highly stimulated as they pick up on rhythm and emotion of voices in the first few months. Sure, they won’t really understand what you’re saying — but once they’re exposed to the tone of your voice and its inflections, the more they start to recognize patterns to predict conclusions. The British Medical Journal reports this recognition can boost cognitive skills and strengthen a love for reading, which provides an effective head start in expanding language and literacy.

Boost brainpower
We know that reading has the efficacy to expand perception and imagination, but it also has the strength to alter brain processes — especially in infants. The AAP reports that prior to kindergarten, reading aloud during critical stages of development have a measurable impact on how an infant brain processes stories. Discovering the presence of greater neuron activity on the left side of their brain, researchers suggest this area is responsible for influencing a child’s I.Q. and comprehension of situations, language and imagery.

Introduce emotion
When you begin to read aloud to your infant, use voices for characters and emote. Since stories evoke all sorts of sentiments, it’s important to expose children to a range of feelings through dialogue and conversation. Often, spoken word expresses the notion that words through modulations in voice have greater meaning. Since infants follow a “monkey see, monkey do” model quickly, allowing then to hear ideas through sound when reading introduces a diverse range of emotion for eventual sociability.

Allow them to understand visuals
Between the time they’re born to three months, your child will start to focus their eyesight on simple patterns in the world. Through early explorations and reading aloud, your infant will set their sights on a variety of shapes, colors, and when it comes to reading — letters and words. At this stage, it’s essential to read plenty of colorful children’s books as they begin to understand that pictures represent objects and emotion. When reading, point out pictures to correlating words as your child will start to create an association between the two as they flex their imagination and memory muscles.

Tips for Reading Aloud
To enhance the familiarity of reading, create an interactivity that not only boasts benefits, but also allows children to experience the story in simple, yet cerebral ways.

  1. Have your child sit in your lap while reading, letting them see the pictures.
  2. Most children are doers, so choose books with flaps and textures for them to feel.
  3. Encourage them to join in when reading words and sentences.
  4. Let your child turn the pages for you.
  5. Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think happens next?”
  6. When they lose interest, don’t force them — put the book away and do something else other than reading.