The Importance of Reading in the Early Years
Readers are leaders
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” If you are a teacher or a parent, chances are you heard or read this quote by Dr. Seuss. Reading opens up so many doors and enables us to live so many lives. As we grow older, the importance of a reading habit becomes intrinsically linked to professional success, as it opens up the mind to new experiences and provides new avenues of knowledge. Reading habit and the love for the written word starts at home, long before a child has even stepped into an early years educational institution, but when exactly and how to start (even if we are not bookworms ourselves).
When to start reading to your child?
A lot of parents think that reading to an infant who cannot understand what is being read makes no sense. However, research has been continuously suggesting that it is never too early to start reading. The baby learned to recognise parents’ voices while still in the womb, and hearing parents talk, sing and read aloud from the moment of birth will strengthen the bond between them. Behavioural psychologist John Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact on all later relationships the person will form throughout life. So reading to your baby, no matter how young, is a great way to develop the close and loving bond you have with each other. Your baby will love the undivided attention, and cuddling up will make him/her feel safe and secure, which is important for the social and emotional development.
Reading, even to a child who still cannot speak a single word, is supporting the language development. Beginning early is important because the roots of language are developing in a baby’s brain even before s/he can talk! The more words your baby hears over time, the more words s/he learns. In a study at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, 18- to 25-month-olds whose parents said they had been reading to them regularly for a year could say and understand more words than those whose parents hadn’t. There is no evidence, however, whether such advantages last, but plenty of parents are convinced that early exposure to books makes a long-term difference, both boosting children’s language abilities and making them more eager to learn how to read.
The books you read to a newborn will definitely not be the same you would read to a toddler or preschooler. If you are struggling where and how to start, here is a age-by-age guide that might help you in choosing books and getting your child interested in listening and, one day, reaching to read one for themselves.
Birth to 6 months
At this age, your child’s vision is still developing, so choose books with little or no text and big, high-contrast pictures. Also consider interactive books, such as the ones having puppets, mirrors or peepholes, and sensory stimulating books made out of soft fabric or vinyl bath books. Reading comprehending is not something you should worry about at this point. For infants, reading is about the tone of your voice and bonding experience.
6 to 12 months
Halfway through their first year, babies may begin to grasp some of the words read to them, especially the most often heard words, such as the names and things from their everyday life. This might be a good time to start introducing books with short, simple stories and colorful illustrations. Books that have just one object or person per age are best; hearing you name something s/he recognises reinforces your baby’s vocabulary and slowly helps him/her realise that illustrations stand for real things.
12 to 18 months
Now you can offer books with simple stories. Stories with rhymes and phrases that repeat can easily catch your toddler’s attention. Children this age also love stories with pictures of other babies and familiar objects, such as animals. When reading, make sure to act out what is being read; imitate sounds of animals and events. As children start to learn by manipulating more and more things from their environment, they start to enjoy the process of repetition that aids learning. Soon your toddler may have a favorite story that s/he requests all the time. Follow the child and read it to him/her over and over again.
At 15 to 18 months, your baby may be able to answer questions with a word, so give him/her the opportunities by asking, “What’s that?” and boosting the vocabulary by expanding on his/her thought:” Yes, car. That’s a big green car.”
18 to 24 months
Introduce longer stories with more complex plots. Humor is a big selling point at this age, as are silly rhymes. Many toddlers find the familiar routine of reading reassuring and calming. The same goes for familiar books. This helps explain why, starting at about 18 months, children may ask for the same book over and over and over — and why they won’t let you change your reading performance by a single “meow” or “vroom.” However, this dogged repetition has a learning benefit as well: Experts think it helps children make sense of and then remember new words.
24 to 36 months
Your child may be ready for books with regular pages and those that have an engaging plot (extra points for humor, rhymes, and great illustrations). Nonfiction stories—such as a book about construction vehicles, stories about animals or seasons, or books that discuss jobs such as doctor or mail carrier—are also of interest to toddlers who are working hard to figure out how the world works.
Finally, not having a book at hand should not stop you from telling your child a story. Storytelling can happen at any time; during mealtimes, diaper changes, driving to child care and right before bed when you “tell the story” of your child’s day. Each of these moments creates an opportunity to build a deeper connection with your child and to build her language and literacy skills, too!
What are your child’t favourite books to listen to? Let us know in the comments below!