By Dr. Betsy Browder
Baby brains are like sponges, absorbing information nonstop. The first three years of a child’s life are especially critical for brain development. This is when the brain is most flexible and efficient at establishing new connections. Research has shown that the more words a baby hears, the better his or her vocabulary, communication, and social skills will be.
One of the most important ways a child can develop their vocabulary and eventually learn to read is by having books shared with them. Sharing books at an early age can teach children:
- How books work. The ability to read and write begins with the simple act of looking through a book. You don’t even have to read the story to your child. Simply point out objects, express enthusiasm, and turn pages. A child who knows how to turn the pages of a book is demonstrating one of the first steps in developing literacy.
- How fun reading can be. We want our kids to get hooked on books, not screens. By having fun experiences early on with books, children can learn to love them and look forward to reading time with you. Spending time with your child and a book can enhance your relationship and makes them feel loved.
- Printed words have meaning. Point at the words while you read and find the matching illustration. Connecting printed words with objects helps a young, developing mind make connections that improve future literacy skills.
Reading not only helps children develop literacy skills and become better readers, it can also help them develop social and emotional skills. Research has shown that preschoolers who are read to more often are better able to empathize with other people. Stories allow children to step into the minds of others, expanding their experiences beyond their own day-to-day life.
Here are some tips for reading with your baby or toddler:
- Make reading a part of your daily routine. Just like bedtime and snack time, set up regular reading time.
- A few minutes a day is OK. Young attention spans are short, so no need to force it.
- Keep books on-hand. Have a book nearby while waiting for the bus, waiting for an appointment, or while dinner is being put together.
- Pick sturdy books for young children. Board books or books with soft pages and multiple textures are great for babies.
- As children get older, we sometimes need to do more to capture their attention. You may need to become a bit of a performer to keep kids engaged in the book.
- Talk about the pictures. Keep your child engaged by asking them to point out different things on the page. Things like, “Look at the baby’s mouth. Where is your mouth?”
- Make different sounds. For example, “There’s a cow! A cow says moo!”
- Follow your child’s interests. If he or she points something out on the page or turns to a different page, comment on what he or she is looking at. “Oh, you found the apple. It looks like the apple you had this morning.”
- Make up your own stories! You don’t have to read exactly what is written on the page. The greatest value in reading with a child is from the words they hear, and the time spent together. Simply flipping through the book and pointing at pictures counts as reading.
Getting kids hooked on books early on helps children to establish stronger reading and social skills. It’s also just plain fun. Happy reading!
About the Author
Dr. Betsy Browder is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Issaquah Highlands office.