At around 24 weeks of pregnancy, babies have been shown to move and respond to sounds outside the womb. And the clearest noise that they can make out is their mother. Even before your baby is born, he’s learning to recognise your voice.
Does reading to your baby in the womb make them smarter?
While there’s no evidence that reading to your baby in the womb (or playing classical music) will increase your child’s intelligence, it can have an impact on their love of reading later on. It also stimulates brain development after they’re born. Parental interaction is the key to keeping children interested in learning. The sense of relaxation you get when you sit and read to your growing belly certainly isn’t going to harm your baby, and may even help lower your stress levels.
But just as it’s never too early to start reading to your baby, it’s never too late, either.
Never feel like your child will be forever behind the eight ball just because you didn’t read to them in utero. What matters is what you do today. Reading does have an impact on your child’s brain. This small study on kids aged between 3 and 5 was able to demonstrate that early reading has an impact on the parts of the brain that are fundamental for developing literacy later on.
From birth to 6 months
Reading to newborns is probably more about cuddles and closeness with their parents and about hearing their soothing voice than it is learning about the world around them. Their vision is still developing – they’re probably more interested in a pop-up book than the words coming out of your mouth! So think simple, high contrast pictures and repetitive subject matter for baby’s first books. Black and white books, or high contrast books are ideal. It really doesn’t matter, though. You could read the Financial Review to a newborn baby, and it will still be beneficial. As long as it’s in a soothing, rhythmic voice, the one on one attention you give your baby helps strengthen the bond between you which has benefits well beyond that of their vocabulary.
From 6 to 12 months
This is the age where books are going to start getting a hammering. Those tiny fingers have a mighty strong grip – books are going to get flung, torn, chewed on or squished. Opt for stronger, thicker card, cloth or wooden books if you want them to last. It’s also a time to think about baby books made from organic materials and non-toxic paints or inks as it’s likely that they’ll end up in their mouths. This is also the age where you might see a visible reaction to their most loved books. A squeal, a smile and reaching out for the book when you pick up their favourite is such a delight to see!
Reading to toddlers
This is an age where reading to baby really becomes fun. Baby’s first books are often filled with either animals or children getting into some sort of mischief on a wild, adventure, which is generally an imaginative take on their everyday life! Laugh, gasp, and pull funny faces. It helps to hold their attention at their wriggliest age, and associate story time with fun.
Encourage their imagination
Improvise a little. Stop and ask questions such as, “What do you think is going to happen next?” or perhaps, “How do you think that little boy is feeling?” Reading is about far more than learning the words on the page, it’s about stimulating the imagination, the desire to learn more, and there are life lessons to be had, too.
If your child is struggling with story time…
Lead by example – have some quiet reading time to yourself and your little one may want to join you. Always have books around that are suitable for their age. Borrow as many as your local library will allow, and observe what they take an interest in. You’ll find many op-shops have a collection of children’s books for around 50 cents apiece – if there are some they’re not interested in, simply donate them back again. If your child is struggling to sit still long enough for a story – act one out instead. Get animated. Reading to toddlers is less about learning the written word and more about increasing or reinforcing their vocabulary and associating words with actions or expressions.
Keep it up!
Don’t stop reading to your child once they learn how to read themselves. Sure, it’s convenient when your child is happy to sit and read, and the more they read, the more it stimulates their natural desire for learning. But it’s so important to continue to be plugged in to your child. When discussing evening routines with a friend of mine, I loved hearing that their 10 year old still enjoyed 10 minutes of bed time reading with Daddy every night. It was their special time together to bond and share and learn. As any parent to grown children will tell you, extend those precious moments for as long as you can!
What are your favourite children’s books? Share in the comments below!
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