This topic has become very important to me in the last several years. Working with babies and their parents and grandparents has given me a clearer perspective on how books enrich a babies' world. One might say there is a hidden agenda in my promoting reading to children, and they would be right. Although it can't be called hidden when it is as obvious as the sky is blue. Children need every opportunity to grow and learn. In encouraging parents to read to their babies, it is my goal to provide an avenue for every child I meet to have a chance to succeed in life. Period. No other agenda is attached. One may wonder how reading to a child can help them succeed in life. There are so many good answers that picking just one is difficult. In a nutshell, reading stimulates learning on many different levels. As an infant, your child is absorbing tons of information about their world and themselves. The human brain is amazing at what it can accomplish in a small amount of time. Once a parent or grandparent begins reading to their babies, they will notice subtle changes in the behavior and reactions of their child.
As stated earlier, Babies learn about their world in a variety of ways. Mainly it is the five senses help them to identify familiar voices, faces, foods and toys. Using the five senses babies discover what they like, what they don't like as well as giving the opportunity to explore and learn new things. Is it any wonder that Pat The Bunny is still a favorite among parents of toddlers as the go to book to encourage baby to use their different senses to explore their world. it is very important to remember that the best children's books often encourage their audience to use all five senses to learn more about their world. A book is a fantastic tool to begin exploring by sight, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. (Yes tasting! A sign of a well loved board book are tiny teeth marks on the corner.)
Reading books to babies teaches them about communication. By listening to a story, babies come to understand how words become sentences and sentences become an expression of ideas. The little nuances of languages, such as the difference between when to use "a" and when to use "an", do not need to be explained. The baby recognizes that it sounds right to hear "an animal" instead of "a animal" in a sentence. Think of it this way, by reading to your baby you are in essence teaching them English grammar before they learn how to write.
Reading also introduces the idea that learning can be fun. Such concepts such as stories, numbers, letters, colors, and shapes are presented in children's books in colorful, creative and engaging illustrations. It is entertaining to read a book that teaches the basics of the alphabet, numbers and shapes with a unique perspective. A favorite alphabet book to track down to discover the creativity I'm speaking of is Chris Van Allsburg's The Z was Zapped. Babies eat these books up (literally and figuratively), which leads to many positive outcomes. Just to name but a few: memories of their favorite books, bonding time with a parent or grandparent and a love of a good story. As a children's librarian, more often than not, there will be one or two teens or adults who will ask me to help them find the books that were read to them when they were children. These stories really do last a lifetime!
Reading to babies helps to build important skills such as listening, memory, and vocabulary that will be invaluable to them in their school years. Babies love the sound of voices speaking to them. It soothes them. When beginning the habit of reading with baby, they learn that this is a special time to be quiet and listen. After a few times of reading the same book, adults are amazed at times that their one year old knows when the page will turn, or what the next word will be in the story. Why should this be amazing? This proves that the child has been listening to you, enjoying your reading voice and loving a story that will stay with them for a long time. It shouldn't amaze adults if the child who has been read to will begin to recognize words in the story. The bonus of reading aloud is that children who are read to become readers sooner than those who have not had this experience. Talk about a jump start on the way to kindergarden.
In my story times, parents and grandparents laugh when I tell the children to demand to be read to as often as possible. The children don't laugh. They know I'm serious. Why? For a child reading and learning is not only fun but it is very important to them. They want to learn and in their own little ways they are begging to adults around them to teach them. Now, if I could get little babies to crawl into formation and demand their rights to be read, it would be the beginning of a perfect world. Since this is not likely to happen, I will turn to caring adults who should champion this cause by reading to a child. Can you join the cause?