More than just a sweet bonding opportunity, reading to your baby can do a lot of good for your little one’s development.
Babies are born with billions of brain cells, which begin forming synaptic connections at the rate of approximately 700 per second during the baby’s first nine months of life, according to Dr. Celia Flinn, pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital in Mansfield.
“The brain is developing really rapidly, and the more we stimulate the babies, the more the kids become essentially smarter,” Flinn said. “We want to get the vocabulary, reading, literacy areas of the brain to become very robust, so by reading to children right from birth and into school age, we’re stimulating those areas.”
Reading to your infant can help achieve a number of short- and longterm goals, including fostering positive attitudes about reading, stimulating the baby’s imagination, aiding in language development, and boosting literacy skills.
Not only that, but reading to your baby can create a valuable bonding experience.
“If it’s a fun time for the children and the parents both, and (the children) look at it in a real positive way, that learning and reading is fun, it sets them up to do well in school,” Flinn said.
One misconception is that reading to children is unnecessary when they’re infants, but as Flinn noted, approximately 80 percent of the synaptic connections are formed by nine months old.
“I think in the past people thought once the child gets old enough to sit on my lap, like 18 months or two years, I’ll begin reading at that point to them, but really we’ve missed that time in their lives when the brains can pick up a lot more connections,” Flinn said.
The less stimulation the child’s brain receives, the more the brain starts to “cut back on” the synaptic connections, Flinn said.
“So say at three or four when they’re in preschool, the areas of the brain like voice and literacy have a lower percentage of connections compared to what they could have had if they had been stimulated from the beginning,” Flinn explained.
It’s not that those connections can’t be formed later on, but it’s harder, Flinn said.
What types of books should I read to my child?
The following was featured in the OhioHealth Health & Wellness Blog:
Birth to six months
"Although babies from birth to six months are still developing their vision, it is still an excellent time to begin to read to them. Choosing books with little or no text and big, high-contrast, colorful pictures is best. Board books and cloth picture books are great for newborns. Reading at this stage is more about the tone of your voice, and being near you, than the actual story.
Six months to 12 months
Between six months and a year, your baby will start to interact more with you when you read to him. Grasping at pages or interacting with books that have mirrors, puppets or sounds will become part of your reading time. Most babies will try to put these books into their mouths so you may want to continue to use board books, books with heavy-duty pages or washable cloth books.
At this stage, babies also begin to recognize the meaning of words that relate to their everyday lives. If you are reading a story about “mommy and baby”, point to yourself when you read “mommy” and point to your baby when you read “baby.” This will help your child understand that illustrations represent real objects.
12 to 18 months
As your baby approaches one year to 18 months, she may try to mimic your speech or your words as you read to her; encourage her to do this. Point to an object in the book and ask “What is this?” or “Who is this?” By 18 months, your child may be able to answer these questions with a word, and you can begin to expand her vocabulary by adding verbs and adjectives. For example, you ask your child, “What is this?” and she answers “House.” You can explain, “Yes, it’s a big, blue house.”
Many toddlers find a consistent reading routine calming and will often ask for the same book or story to be read to them over and over again. The repetition is more comfortable for your child and may help him with absorbing new information and remembering new words.
You should avoid using books on tape or videos as a substitute for your own voice. It’s the time you are spending with your baby that is most valuable. Your baby will respond to the attention she gets from you, more than the information in the book. Don’t worry about trying to teach sounds and letters from the start. The more you read to your child, the more she will begin to pick these skills up naturally. Teaching your child to enjoy reading is the real lesson."
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is a program that supplies children with their own library of books to encourage a love of reading from a young age. Each month from the day a child is born until his or her fifth birthday, an expert-selected book arrives in the mail for the child to enjoy with the company of an adult.
The local program is currently available to all babies born in 2019, though the program is expected to expand to include all children under two in 2020, according to Flinn.
“As we continue to fundraise, we’ll be opening it up eventually to all children from birth to five years of age,” Flinn said.
So far approximately 500 Richland County children are enrolled in the program, according to Flinn.
Since its inception in 1995, the Imagination Library has served more than 1.4 million children and mailed over 130 million books across the globe. Each month, the Imagination Library mails an age appropriate book to all registered children, addressed to them, at no cost to the child’s family.
To learn more about the local program, including how to register and donation information, visit the Facebook page.
This story is brought to you in part by the Little Buckeye Children's Museum, a local children's museum that is proud to provide children and families opportunities to learn and discover through the power of play every day in Richland County. As a nonprofit, Little Buckeye Children's Museum appreciates the support of the community it serves. If you would like to support Little Buckeye Children's Museum and its mission for healthy child development, click here.