You may not know it, but a child’s lifetime love of reading doesn’t start in preschool. Believe it or not, literacy begins in infancy, and as a a caregiver, you have the profoundly important task of inspiring this love of reading in your kids.
The ability to read, communicate and understand the written language of the world your child encounters is crucial to their long-term success in life. With so much at stake, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but there’s no need to worry. Helping your child develop those earliest of literacy skills is as simple as it gets.
So, what’s the trick to getting baby reading ready? It’s exposure to books.
Let Them Explore Books
There are lots of ways to share language, words and a positive experience with books and reading to your little ones. Don’t worry about teaching them to read as infants, instead allow babies to experience the physical nature of the books themselves by exploring, tasting, touching, manipulating and playing with books.
You’ll want to have a supply of those baby-proof board books, then let them play until their hearts are content. I found that for infants, the best board books were the touch and feel variety, like Anne Millard’s “My first Word Touch And Feel“.
Baby Bookshelves & Modeling Behavior
Since I’ve always had lots of bookshelves in my house, I found that the best way to encourage book play was to use the bottom two shelves on any bookcase in my house for the most kid-friendly volumes. (This also protected my prized novels from getting ripped or loved too much by those tiny-but-destructive hands.)
While it might seem like babies don’t get much out of a bedtime story, or a story group, the truth of the matter is that babies are born ready to soak up information from their environments, and their brains are developing rapidly.
According to Zero To Three, a national early childhood development organization, is part of a young child’s experiences not just with books, but with care givers attitudes towards reading, and allowing the child to interact with the books.
“First things first: What is early (or emergent) literacy? We can think of it as what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write. It encompasses all the experiences, good and bad, that children have had with books, language, and print, beginning in infancy. For example, one child is scolded every time he tries to reach out and grab the book his mother is reading to him, while another child is given a chunky board book and allowed to open and close it to her heart’s content as her mother laughs alongside her. Which child is likely to have a better experience and more confidence with books?…Early literacy requires people and sensitive, responsive relationships, too. Parents and caregivers are a vital component of the child’s experience with reading and language. All of these variables—the child, the book, the parent, and the relationship—work together to support or discourage the development of emergent literacy skills,” Zero to Three wrote.
Besides that, kids model their parents’ behavior, so it’s also good to curl up on the couch with the TV off, and remark that, “I can’t you wait to read this book!” If you let your kids see you reading for pleasure, and they’ll associate reading not as a task, but as a fun hobby. You also can’t go wrong by taking them to book stores, libraries, and reading groups and public story times.
Books for Baby Today Make A Happy Reader Later
Finally, if you’ve given your baby books to explore, opportunities to see others reading, the final step is to read to your child. But, don’t just confine it to a bedtime story. Read signs, cereal boxes, share new words and read your grown-up magazines/books out loud, or if you’ve ever seen the movie “Three Men & A Baby” you can take the Tom Selleck approach. Kids are naturally more attuned to the sounds of their care givers’ voices, so even if they seem oblivious, they’re still absorbing the words you say, and they’ll always prefer the sound of your voice to that of a TV.
On top of that, by sharing words, you’re actually increasing their potential vocabulary and their language skills. If you don’t get around to reading for a day, don’t beat yourself up, just do better next time.
Just think of how proud you’ll be when your little one reads you their first book by themselves. Knowing that you did everything in your power to get the kids in your life reading ready is a very satisfying feeling, and you’ll be happy you did.