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Reading to Your Child — Giving Your Baby the Gift of Literacy March 28, 2019 344 No Comments

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Reading to Your Child -- Giving Your Baby the Gift of Literacy is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Whether you share chunky little board books or read your way through classic children’s literature such as Heidi or Tom Sawyer, love of reading is something that will sustain your child through many crises, improve his or her ability to learn, and can even give many hours of pleasure.

When to Start Reading

When should you start reading to your child? As soon as you bring your little one home. You might feel a little silly reading aloud to a pre-verbal infant, but at this age it doesn’t really matter what you read. It can be the newspaper, the bills from the hospital, or your college textbooks. The important part is that you are talking, words are coming out of your mouth. Your child will hear your voice, focus on your lips moving and will learn the cadence of words being read aloud. Is reading aloud different from talking? Absolutely! You might consider learning how to tell stories, as well, since story telling is also different from reading aloud. None of this should preclude talking to your baby, including baby talk, foolish talk, and talking out your own troubles when it is just the two of you. Babies learn language from hearing language. Recordings, television, and radio are nice, but they do not take the place of the sound of your voice.

Chunky Board Books

When your baby starts being able to track an object with his or her eyes, and definitely when he or she starts to babble, you might want to start mixing up the general reading material with something more interesting for babies. Some theorists believe that babies do not see colors, and that books with bold, black and white silhouettes are best for first books. Others believe that if you start labeling everything in the house with words that your child will quickly associate that combination of letters with the object. Whether these ideas are true or not, what is known for sure is that around age four months, your baby will start to explore the world by tasting it. He or she is likely to be teething at this age and chewing on things feels good to gums with erupting teeth. Board books are made with the expectation that they are going to acquire some human type teeth marks. Don’t be fooled into supplanting this important stage with a cell phone or a tablet. Those are not safe choices for your child’s mouth. Cardboard might not make the best teether, but several generations have survived it. Look for books that are printed using non-toxic dyes. Even if you don’t stick to the purists’ black and white first books, simple books are best at this stage, with two or three words per page.

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Switching Up to Better Board Books

By age six months, you will probably have started expanding your baby’s library. New books are best at this stage because your darling will still be tasting the world. Color and simple stories about everyday life are good choices, but you can mix it up with those classic stories, Three Little Pigs, the Gingerbread Man, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. If you are not familiar with folk and fairy tales in their original formats, prepare to be shocked. These were originally adult entertainment. But they have been watered down through generations of care givers and often deliver cogent messages such as “Pay attention! The world is a dangerous place,” or “Trespassing is BAD, and might get you eaten up by bears.” Never mind that wolves and bears are not part of your child’s daily life, the message is still there. Simple illustrations with bright colors work best for young children. Stories with repetitive choruses are fantastic as they provide an opportunity for language practice that is fun for both of you.

Transitioning to Paper Books

Board books provide practice for another skill: that of turning pages. They also introduce the idea that the pages should be turned one at a time. By around age nine months, a baby that has been read to each night will be old enough to help a parent carefully turn the pages one at a time. By age one year, he or she will probably be able to turn the pages on their own. Respect for books should be taught early. It saves on torn pages and wasted investment in literature. It is probably best to keep the everyday use books to board books until around age eighteen months or perhaps even two years. But read aloud books can begin to be longer, more complex and have more complicated illustrations. Let your child’s interests guide you. This is the age at which you might find yourself reading Rosemary Well’s Max And Ruby’s Bedtime Book, or Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham over and over. This is not a good age at which to introduce fractured fairy tales. Save those for later.

Longer Stories and Chapter Books

By age three years, preschoolers who have been read to as toddlers are ready for longer books. Read them a chapter at a time and mix them up with shorter books that your child can “read” when you are busy doing other things. One of the milestones of literacy is when your child begins to turn the pages carefully and tell the story, or at least a story, that goes with the pictures in the book. At this stage, books with beautiful, realistic illustrations are wonderful. Don’t correct your child’s interpretation of the story but do encourage the storytelling process. You can learn some amazing things about the way your child interprets the world in this way.

Learning to Read

If you read something to your child every night from infancy, you won’t have to label everything in the house for your baby to learn to read. It will develop as a natural process from looking at the pictures on the page connected with the words printed on it and listening to your voice reading the words. An older reader comments, “To this day, I can hear my mother’s voice reading certain stories. She was not an accomplished reader and mispronounced a lot of the words. I had to unlearn those pronunciations later. But she understood story telling and reading aloud to a child.”

Learning to Read Aloud

Reading aloud to your preverbal baby is excellent practice for learning to read aloud. You will get a chance to learn the best ways to hold the book so you can both see the illustrations and you will get used to forming words with your voice as well as with your eyes and your head. Reading aloud also provides a learning channel for you, just in case those first books are your textbooks that you must read for your classes. One night a group of roommates were observed in an unusual activity. These young men were sharing online information about table-top role-playing games. As they worked through the material, they read it aloud to each other, even though they were all college students. Something about the process of reading the material aloud made it easier to comprehend.

What Children Gain from Being Read Too

One important thing that children gain from listening to you read aloud is shared time with you. This is an important aspect of their maturation as social beings. Another thing they gain is the mythos of their tribe. Sound crazy? Maybe. But each generation has its favorite pieces of literature and knowing those literary items provides a basis for shared understanding. More than that, a study done several years ago found that children who knew folk and fairy tales had an easier time coping with the unexpected in life as well as developing literacy and love of learning and a young age. Children who are read to simply do better in life. They have an easier time learning to read and reading opens doors to all other sorts of learning.

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