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Can you believe it, the school year is upon us! Schools are a flurry of activity as students busily break into fresh boxes of crayons, sharpen their pencils, and meet new teachers and friends. Did you know that the foundations of a child’s learning is laid well before he or she ever steps inside a classroom?
Researchers, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, found in an extensive study that trends in children’s abilities to learn new words are established by age three. The number and quality of words children hear at home in their first three years of life is directly linked to their future literacy skills. Indeed parents are their children’s first and most important teachers!
When my son, BabyCakes, was born I remember reading in an article that I should talk to him throughout our day. I admit it felt awkward narrating my comings and goings to a glassy-eyed newborn, but I did it anyway. Now that BabyCakes is 14 months old, he often participates in the conversation with a handful of words and a lot of baby babble. While our chitchat still feels silly, now I know how truly important it is. Parents, talk to your babies even if it feels silly!
In addition to talking with your baby, reading aloud to him or her is critical to building a solid foundation for future language development and literacy learning. (See Reading Aloud to Children: the Evidence) In fact, the Academy of American Pediatrics recommends that doctors prescribe reading activities for parents and children at all well child check-ups. Many pediatric practices give patients free books at each doctor visit.
Why is reading to babies so important? There are many reasons but here are ones that hit home for me:
- Taking time to read aloud to your child nourishes your parent/child bond.
- Reading to children from infancy models reading for enjoyment.
- Babies and toddlers need to hear LOTS of words and reading to them is a great way to do it!
- Children’s literature is a treasure chest of rich language and stories that opens the world to your child.
Clearly reading to your baby is important, but some of you may be thinking… I would love to read to my baby but who has the time? Or, sure lady, you try to get my wiggly child to stay still for a story! Don’t worry mamas I have some tips for making reading a regular and enjoyable part of your day.
1. Routine Reading – Including reading as a part of your daily routine makes reading the expected norm, which ensures that your little one get lots of quality story time. Many parents and caregivers, myself included, make reading a part of their nap/bedtime routine. Don’t forget that reading isn’t just for rest. There are plenty of playful books for busier times of the day.
2. Little Listeners- Want to get through the New York Times? With little babies you can read anything aloud, just add some fun inflections and both you and baby will have a blast.
3. Fidget Books- Does your little one try to wiggle away during story time? Around five months BabyCakes started getting wiggly and grabby. My husband and I found letting him play with a tiny board book, a “fidget book,” while we read another helped us in these wiggly situations. Also remember a short story or nursery rhyme is better than nothing at all.
4. Location, Location, Location- Some positions and places may be more successful than others so try a variety… cradling in your arms, sitting on your lap, laying on the changing table, looking out during tummy time. Think outside of the box and do what works best for you and your little one!
5. Visit the Library – Public libraries are a wonderful, and often underused, resources for parents and children. Going to the library is a fun and free outing where you can stock up on books for story time at home. Many libraries have story times designed specifically for a variety of age groups so be sure to check your library’s schedule of events.
6. Enjoy the ride– A love of books and reading is contagious. Reading aloud and playing with books has become one of our favorite past times. I hope it becomes a favorite activity in your house too!
The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, By Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/spring2003/hart.cfm
Raising Readers: The Tremendous Potential of Families http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/startearly/ch_1.html
The Importance of Reading Aloud: Setting Children Up for Success in School and in Life http://www.reachoutandread.org/why-we-work/importance-of-reading-aloud/
Reading Aloud to Children: the Evidence, E. Duursma, M. Augustyn, B. Zuckerman http://www.reachoutandread.org/FileRepository/ReadingAloudtoChildren_ADC_July2008.pdf