Early exposure to languages through reading, drawing, singing or talking can help a child learn for life with ease. Doing these activities everyday stimulates cognitive development, works on literacy skills, and encourages vocabulary building and clear communication. One such activity that is often spoken about and is popular among all parents is reading. Reading as a skill can be developed from infancy since it helps to get the child familiar with sounds, actions and words. And all that it takes is a few minutes during the day to foster the joy and love for reading during their formative years. Below here, I want to share how reading helps babies and toddlers and some benefits of the same.
READING TO BABIES (0-12months)
How can you help babies experience the joy of reading?
- Connection : Reading aloud helps babies make a connection between books and their favorite person – you. Your voice, tone and your closeness allows them associate reading with positive emotions.
- Routine : Allocating time for reading everyday makes your baby understand that it is part of their regular routine as much as eating or sleeping is. It helps to calm the baby down and builds on their prediction skills. Most parents love to cuddle up with their children during bedtime or tummy time to read a book. Some prefer to read in parts during different times of the day. Whatever time of the day it maybe, snuggling up with a book increases bonding and affection between the baby and the parent. One important point to remember here is that it is best to read to your baby when he/she is NOT sleepy, wet or hungry.
- Development : When you read to your child you get their full attention. It is important that you choose a quiet place to read; away from the television, smart phones or tablets. This helps the baby listen to your voice, tone and emotions more clearly and helps establish the right neural connections for creativity, imagination and problem solving.
- Foundation Skills : Babies react in different ways when you read to them – by cooing, laughing, babbling and through gestures. Encourage every movement and sound that your baby makes and respond to them. Babies as young as 4-6 months old also communicate by chewing books, grabbing or dropping them. Eventually as the months go by, they start showing interest in the colors, pictures and the stories. For the baby to be able to comprehend your words, reading slowly at a pace that the baby can follow is extremely vital. These first vocabulary and language lessons lay the foundation skills for early literacy.
- The 3Rs : Repetition, Rhythm and Rhyme! Never express boredom in front of the child nor be afraid to read the same book over and over again. Babies take to some pages so easily that they might want you to repeat it for them over and over again. Make funny sounds, sing and laugh as you read. Act out what you read, but don’t forget to point out to objects, shapes or colours and name them to your baby. Ask questions or make comments and give the answers to the baby by pointing out to what you are referring to in the book. This helps the baby focus and also establish conversations with the parent. Encourage your baby to respond to whatever you ask them by placing their finger on an animal, object, colour or shape.
*Pick books that are bright, bold against a solid background and have phrases or texts that keep repeating. Books with textures, mirrors, pop-ups are great for tactile play. Soft cloth books, vinyl books and board books are easier to handle for the baby, with your help.
READING TO TODDLERS (12months and above)
It is never too late to start reading to your child. For parents who haven’t set the reading routine in their households, this can definitely be the right time to start. Books with short stories, picture books and bilingual books delight every toddler to read along with an adult. You really haven’t missed out on the above benefits.
Don’t worry if your toddler doesn’t show interest initially. Also do not aim at finishing a whole book during one reading session. Reading a few pages or words during the day itself will slowly set the routine.
Pick up books with familiar objects and routine. This will interest the child and make them look at it over and over again. Stop reading a particular book if your child is not enjoying the story and switch to another book. Reintroduce the book at a later point of time when the child is more relaxed and happy. You could take the following action steps to make up for the time missed out on ‘reading’
Encourage your child to take the lead. Set up a small library of books in a cosy corner where the child is able to access them with ease. When the personal touch is established, it is easier to get toddlers into the reading habit. Allow them to pick a book that they want you to read for them.
Children learn from observation. Whether you are an avid reader, or you read for pleasure, make it a point to read a few pages from a book of your choice in front of your child. This makes them imitate you and eventually they will pick books to read too on a daily basis.
Help them make connections with real world object, events and occurrences with the books that they read. Encourage children to turn pages themselves, teach them to hold books the right way up and guide them to read from left to right. Choose books that are the right length and match your child’s true interests.
Gradually, the child will undertsand that books are the gateway to the big wide world out there and that they are privileged to access them within the four walls of their house. Visit a lending library or a public library occasionally and pick books for them to read. Show them that library books are shared resources and that your child needs to share it with all the other children in the neighbourhood. Introduce pre-loved books to your child to help them value it and understand that books can be preserved carefully and passed on to generations of children to read. Also help them share/donate their favourite books to children who cannot afford to access books or read.
In conclusion, these are a few ways in which you can introduce books to your children and make reading an enjoyable and pleasurable activity. To present the idea of reading in a nutshell, here is a beautiful poem written by Strickland Gillilan, an American humorist and poet, about the importance of reading.
THE READING MOTHER
I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.
About the Author : Anusha has been an educator for the past decade and has worked with different schools in Chennai across varied curricula. A doting mom to Vidyut, she started reading to her toddler since he was a month old. She runs a reading club called ‘Once upon a Time’ at her after-school learning centre, Anubhavi. She enjoys backpacking to off-beat destinations and loves to try her hand at cooking authentic dishes from the different states of India. You can read more about Anusha and her educational initiative at www.anubhavi.in.
Here is a list of some of the books from Vidyut’s library that are the mother son duo’s favourites!
- Doing the animal BOP by Jan Ormerod
- Days with Thathu by Geeta Dharamarajan
- Excuse Me by Karen Katz
- Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
- Colour-Colour Kamini by Radhika Chadha
- Storm in the Garden by Sandhya Rao
- Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
- Carry me Mama! By Shamim Padamsee
- Where do diggers sleep at night by Brianna Caplan Sayres
- Gajapati Kulapati by Ashok Rajagopalan
- Doggies by Sandra Boynton
- The three kittens by V.Suteyev
- No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli
- The Crayons’ book of colours by Drew Daywalt
- Cheep Cheep by Tulika Publishers
- Brown Bear Treasury by Eric Carle
- Many moons by Remi Courgeon