Hooked on Books: 5 Reasons to Read to Your Baby

The earlier you start reading to your child, the sooner you'll set them on a path to success! 
The earlier you start reading to your child, the sooner you'll set them on a path to success!

Four-month old Lily sits on her father’s lap, one chubby hand in her mouth, the other patting the farm animals in the book in front of her.

As the pages turn, Lily reaches for the pictures, squealing and gurgling with excitement as her father reads.

The Campos family’s biggest reader also happens to be its littlest. In fact, Lily’s parents have been reading to her since the day they brought her home from the hospital. But are there really benefits to reading to babies? In a word: absolutely.

Early literacy skills begin in infancy. Reading to your baby is critical to setting your child on the path to strong reading skills, a better vocabulary and success in school—and life.

Here are five reasons reading to your baby is a must!

1. Exposure to Language

“Reading, singing and talking with your baby gives them exposure to language. All of these things contribute to language development,” says Dr. Elanna S. Yalow, Chief Executive Officer of KinderCare Early Learning Programs.

Books provide great opportunities for babies to hear the richness of the spoken word and learn that the letters, words and pictures you point to all have meaning. Reading is about more than paging through books. It’s about learning to experience a world that is filled with and defined by words.

2. Closing the Word Gap

Did you know that your child will have most of her foundation for language development by age eight? Or that a rich vocabulary is directly connected to a child’s ability to think, follow directions, express thoughts and navigate social interactions?

“The first year of a child’s life is the most critical period for the child’s ability to learn language,” says Dr. Yalow, who attended a Summit at the White House about solutions for closing the Word Gap.

The term “Word Gap” was first coined in 1995 when research found that children exposed to fewer words are at risk for poor early literacy skills, which can have an impact on future academic, social and economic success.

“This issue is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents start reading to their children right at birth.”

3. Repetition is Powerful (You Can Say That Again!)

Babies love to hear the same stories over and over (and over) again. As it turns out, all those well-worn, dog-eared pages serve a purpose. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, knowing that something is always hiding behind the flap or that favorite pictures are always in the same spot provides valuable learning opportunities. This predictability reinforces the idea of cause and effect and helps young children feel capable and in control of some of the larger world around them.

4. Benefits Beyond the Book

Reading not only helps your baby connect words on the page with real-life concepts. It also helps babies build connections essential for later success.

Asking questions, naming objects in the book that your baby points to, and creating open-ended, back-and forth-exchanges are called “serve and return” interactions that develop neural pathways in the brain. They also support language, literacy, cognitive, social and emotional development.

5. Snuggle Time

Reading with your baby means more bonding time. This physical and emotional closeness also helps your baby make a connection between what she loves most—you, your voice and being near you—with books.

When children associate closeness, happiness and excitement with books, they’re more likely to correlate books with positive experiences. What a great way to create the readers of tomorrow.

Steps to Success!

How can you get the most of out the time you spend reading with your baby?

  • Point to pictures and say the words.
  • Ask open ended questions. You don’t need them to answer, of course. (They are infants, after all.) The goal is to expand and enrich your interaction.
  • Talk with your baby about the story; don’t just read the words.
  • Let your baby interact physically with the book. Board books are a great choice because they hold up to baby’s handling—even when the book goes into his or her mouth. It’s all part of the experience!
  • Keep it interesting by varying your voice and using different voices for different characters.
  • Choose books with photographs of real-world depictions of animals and objects.
  • Choose books with bright pictures and tactile opportunities. Children learn through their senses, so books with different textures—and even scents and sounds—help expand learning opportunities.
  • Keep books within your child’s reach so your child can interact with books just as with toys.

Ready. Set. Read!

Here are some great books to read to your baby:

First 100 Words, by Roger Priddy 2011

Baby Faces, by DK Publishing 1998

Snuggle Puppy, by Sandra Boynton 2003

Touch and Feel Farm, by DK Publishing 2011

Global Babies, by Global Fund for Children 2007

I Am a Bunny, by Ole Risom. Illus. by Richard Scarry [1963] 2004

Peekaboo Bedtime, by Rachel Isadora 2008

The fact is, whether it’s the gardening tips from the morning paper or Goodnight Moon, reading with your baby will positively impact learning, social and emotional development and form the foundation of literacy for years to come.

It’s the first chapter in a book you’ll write together. Think of this as page one.

Meet Dr. Yalow.

As Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Elanna Yalow is responsible for the development of our educational programs as well as ensuring we employ best practices in education, professional development, and quality assurance. A passionate advocate both for young children and the educators who teach them, Dr. Yalow is a renowned thought leader on early childhood education and has published and presented extensively on education topics. Dr. Yalow, a mother of two sons, holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the Stanford University School of Education, and an M.B.A. from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.


Read more articles by Dr. Yalow.
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