“My four year old reads at a third-grade level,” proudly beams Isaiah F.A. “Yesh” Cohen, Ph.D., a young father of three girls. “As we read certain words Rachel doesn’t know, I write them down so that she can learn them later. We’re working on the lowercase letters right now.”
Yesh is a hands-on parent and devoted father, and he has spent a lot of time reading to his daughters over the years. “I read to my girls every night and often during the day as well,” he says.
Reading to babies, in utero and as infants, provides various benefits to growing kiddos in the long run. However, many aren’t sure when to begin or if it can really help while baby is in utero.
Reading to baby: How early is too early?
Experts say that reading to one’s baby bump around 29 weeks–when the fetus can hear–may help babies in utero learn to recognize and respond to their mother’s voice. Not only does it help with development of early language learning, but use of a soothing tone while speaking can decrease mom’s stress level, lower baby’s fetal heart rate and initiate a positive parent-child bond.
The literature suggests, for baby’s sake, that voice tones and cadences are more important than the subject matter. This suggests that reading material that informs parents during the first trimester, at least, can be helpful to all involved. Pabby Arnold, coordinator for special literacy projects at the EBR Parish Library, suggests parents may benefit from reading Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby and Dr. Ari Brown and Denise Fields’ Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year.
Some experts argue that babies enter the world able to communicate, ultimately developing skills that determine the level of success they will accomplish during their lives, Charlene Jenkins, M.Ed., explains. Specifically, the skills Jenkins refers to are speaking, writing, listening, thinking and reading.
Rich early-life literacy experiences usually work hand-in-hand with children’s ease with learning to read. Jenkins, the associate director of infant toddler programs at the LSU Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool, concurs with child learning expert Kisilevski, who emphasizes that parents should read to their children.
Jenkins suggests parents should try to be enthusiastic about reading and to make reading fun for their babies. Talking to children as well as reading to them helps them to build language, she says. Building language involves infants’ language development and word recognition. Other advice is to read the same book often, to point out pictures while reading, and to make up stories with your child.
Making reading and storytelling a habit through ritual
Research suggests that including reading in your toddler’s bedtime routine can help spark interest in learning while helping her wind down before bed.
The delight that kids get from the time parents spend reading books with them is something that’s completely irreplaceable, and the academic benefits can’t be replaced with anything else, Yesh says. Storytelling is superior because you use your imagination. In fact, he claims that making up stories about your kids is healthy for their mental development.
He describes his girls’ bedtime reading ritual: “We sit down and do our prayers, and bedtime reading begins. Rachel sits beside me while Sarah hovers; she’s still not super interested in looking at a book unless it has pictures. The book I use is text only, so it is useful to use one’s imagination. I recall reading when I was young and seeing as I read with my mind’s eye.”
When he reads certain books, his three girls actively listen. Rachel follows along on the page as her two-year-old sister stays nearby listening. Even four month old Violet listens, propped up on a pillow as their father reads. Sarah likes the book I’m a Big Sister Now, and the message behind it.
For more reading
Thanks to your local library, finding a new book on your e-reader, smartphone, tablet or laptop to read to your children is easy. Arnold suggests that parents access the Library’s Kid’s page:
facebook.com/ebrplkids. “The library’s kid’s page offers programs, crafts, Monday night bedtime stories, Sunday night story starters and story times virtually,” Arnold says.
Books to Read in Utero and After the Baby is Born
Dream Little One, Dream by Sally Morgan
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner
Rock-a-bye Baby by Jane Cabrera
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Please Baby Please by Spike Lee
Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin
I am a Bunny by Ole Risone
The Rooster Struts by Richard Scarry
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak