Okay, we all know we need to read to our kids. But read to a newborn? Do people really do that? During the days after my son was born, I’ll admit it never really crossed my mind. Between diaper changes and feedings and baths, I was mostly just trying to figure out when I could grab a nap. But once we all settled in, reading came soon enough. And over the years, we read all the classics, the hot, new picture books on display at the bookstore, and, eventually (and slowly), The Chronicles of Narnia.
Though we didn’t read on day one, we read early and often, and, as it turns out, that is the best way to create a mind built to learn. A study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the more children were read to between birth and age five, the more active their brains were when listening to stories in Kindergarten, as shown by the results of MRI’s. The specific areas of the brain that showed (or didn’t show) the most activation were those that process mental imagery and comprehension of language. In other words, while listening to stories, the kids whose parents read to them more often were better able to visualize what they heard and, therefore, understood it better. Can you imagine a better skill to hone before even getting to school? (For information on the word gap, check out: Can We Close the Word Gap?)
As a Speech-Language Pathologist who works in an elementary school, I can tell you first hand that some kindergarten students look relaxed and happy. These are the ones who understand enough of what’s going on to be excited to learn more, the ones who were read to early and often. And then there are the heart breakers who, sadly, know after a couple weeks that they are there to try and catch up.
Of course, you don’t have to read on day one. But we all owe it to our kids to read early and often. Here are some tips for making that happen, even when you are stressed, overwhelmed, or lacking in resources:
- Go to the library regularly. Attend story times and pick out some books (or let your child pick out some books). Just being there week after week sends the message to your little one that reading is fun and important.
- Build reading into your schedule just as you do naps and meals. You’ll be more consistent with reading if it’s part of your routine.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to read an entire book to your baby. Feel free to skip pages or spend more time on pages in which she is particularly interested. Board books are great for little ones because they’re more durable.
- If you have an older child too, create a win-win learning time by having him/her read to your baby. “Reading” can be looking at and naming pictures, reading the words, or sometimes, just turning the pages. It should be fun!
- Give your baby books to look at instead of turning on the TV or giving him your phone to play with.
Reading early and often to your baby creates a domino effect. More language equals more knowledge equals faster learning. What a gift!
Written by Susan Coon, one of the founders of Simply Smart Kids, LLC. You can read Susan’s bio here: Who We Are
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