For children, reading is an activity that has a huge range of advantages. The most readily apparent of these is that it can help them with their vocabulary as well as their understanding of the world and the people in it. But did you know reading to our babies from the time they’re born (or even before!) has its own benefits?
Reading to our children is one of the primary ways we can help improve their literacy by having them read along with us, using a finger to point out each word, then discussing the story afterwards. But over and above literacy, reading to our children, including our babies, can help with everything from language development to bonding.
There are baby books available for children of all ages, including newborns. Of course, books for newborn babies are vastly different from those aimed at early readers. In fact, some of those early baby books don’t even contain words – instead, they are often cardboard books with high-contrast colours and shapes that you can point to and name as your baby’s eyes, still adjusting to being in the outside world, get used to focusing on things in front of them. Not only do they get to look at interesting new shapes and listen to the sound of your voice, but it’s the perfect chance for some cuddle time with mum or dad, too! Having reading time after a feed and a change gives you both the chance to just relax for a short while, and the rhythmic sound of your voice reading a book can often lull tiny bodies and minds to sleep. Making it part of bedtime makes it much easier to make time for reading on a regular basis, and it’s a wonderful way to get some quality time with the little ones at the end of the day. You can even read to baby in the bath with waterproof bath books just for baby!
As they get older, reading out loud to children can be a key component of advancing their vocabulary, by introducing them to a diverse assortment of language uses. They can also get exposure to increasingly complex sentence structures in an easy-to-follow format, with the benefit of having someone explain concepts they may not understand. Reading a wide variety of books not only presents them with new words, but different ways of using those words.
In a modern world with so much screen time, reading to your child is fun. It’s amazing to watch their faces as they listen. Their imaginations take over as they interpret the words you’re reading and use them to build an entirely new world. As they grow older, their favourite stories can frequently stay in their minds. It’s not uncommon for children to use these stories as a basis when they draw, illustrating what they saw in their imaginations as they listened, or when they're creating games, and it’s equally common for them to go back to read and re-read them time and time again. Children can even use books and stories as a basis for developing hand-eye coordination by replicating scenes or characters using the toys they have, from blocks to dolls and more. And all of that is to say nothing of the warm nostalgia that comes from reading books we ourselves enjoyed as children, or the new understanding we can have of those same stories – some of them have a whole other level of meaning that we couldn’t grasp the first time around, but sure do when we’re reading to our own kids.
Reading, whether by themselves or listening to you as you read to them, gives children the chance to put themselves in the shoes of an infinite variety of other people and situations. The opportunities reading provides are enormous – as well as academic learning, there’s a body of evidence to suggest that a long-term reading habit helps our ability to empathise, lowers stress, and helps with sleep.