Your baby is never too young to learn appreciation for reading and books. In fact, research shows a number of benefits of creating a bedtime story ritual with your infant. A study, presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, found reading to a baby as young as six months leads to stronger vocabulary skills and better early literacy skills at the age of four. “Even though children may not be talking yet, it doesn’t mean they’re not learning,” said lead author of the study, developmental psychologist Carolyn Cates, a research assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Centre in the US.
The study also found both the quality and quantity of books being read during the infant and toddler years predicted early literacy skills, such as name writing, beginning sound awareness and early reading skills.
Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Florida, Lisa Scott, shares in her article, For Baby’s Brain to Benefit, Read the Right Books at the Right Time, that what’s on the pages is just as important as the reading experience itself.
“Researchers see clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. Shared book reading with young children is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and prereading skills and honing conceptual development,” she says. “Shared book reading also likely enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship by encouraging reciprocal interactions – the back and forth dance between infants. Certainly not least of all, it gives infants and parents a consistent daily time to cuddle.”
Both Scott and Cates agree the more books you read to your baby, the greater the developments in your preschool child. Not only does this improve language, vocabulary, reading and writing skills, but helps develop a healthy imagination, too. This topic has been the subject of a number of studies conducted by Scott and her team.
One of her studies, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Child Development, found picture books with characters and labels, rather than generic labels, were best for infants. Scott adds that the findings suggest, “Very young infants are able to use labels to learn about the world around them and shared book reading is an effective tool for supporting development in the first year of life.”
Scott’s research found that during the first year of life, naming objects and people influences both perceptual and conceptual development, which allows your baby to make connections between words and items in their environment. The specific words used to label faces or objects helps influence visual and neural processing immediately and later in childhood.
Scott adds that not all books are created equal and it’s important to read age-appropriate books to your
baby. In other words, you need to read the right books at the right time to get the best benefits. “For infants, finding books that name different characters may lead to higher-quality shared book reading experiences and result in the learning and brain development benefits we find in our studies. All infants are unique, so parents should find books that interest their baby.”
She adds, “It’s possible that books that include named characters simply increase the amount of parent talking. We know talking to babies is important for their development, so if you’re the parent of an infant, make book reading part of your daily routine and name the characters in the books you read. Talk to your babies early and often to guide them through their amazing new world and let story time help.”
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.