Why Should I Read to my Child?
Most people will agree that reading to your child helps them learn not just how to speak but also improves their vocabulary. Many age appropriate books deal with simple concepts such as colors, numbers, and the names of animals and basic objects. Larger vocabularies in childhood, as well as increased interaction with parents, is associated with greater intelligence and rapid learning. But reading to your child has more benefits other than just ones dealing with education.
Story time provides bonding experiences that might otherwise be missing in our busy and hectic lives. Children absolutely love spending quality time with mom and dad, particularly in their early years. If you ensure you meet their needs for one on one time with you then you can expect a slightly better relationship with your child as they get older. The more present you are in your child's life, and the more you respect them as a person and individual, the more likely you child will be to feel that you can relate to them, and understand them. I'm sure most of you know what a difference it would have made, or at least how much it would have meant to you if you had just felt like mom and dad understood you, respected your opinion, and treated you like a person rather than something to be ruled and controlled. Creating that type of relationship with your child is easiest when started from a young age. And story time, letting them pick the book, and holding them close are just a few small ways you can start that process.
Story time can be a stress relieving opportunity for mom and dad as well. There are few things better in this world than cuddling with your little one after a long day, it certainly does the trick for me. Also, as your children get older and more stubborn or independent, story time can be a great way to trick them into cuddling or at least sitting with you for a little while. If you have multiple children you can accomplish these same effects as discussed above by having a different child sit in your lap each night, so everyone gets a turn. To ensure no confusion about who's turn it is, I would recommend a chart of some kind, so the older children can keep track of who's turn it is. This should help cut down on mood ruining squabbles.
When Should I Start Reading to my Child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that you should start reading to your child at around 6 months of age. This is said to be because children begin learning to speak around 6 months and reading to them, especially re-reading the same books, assists them in that learning. Studies have shown that children who hear upwards of 2,000 words a day learn to speak sooner, have a greater variety in vocabulary, and preform better on standardized tests by age 3 than children who received less verbal communication.
So how early is too early to start reading to your child? First off, I don't think there is any such thing as 'too early' when it comes to reading. Reading to your child is just as much for your benefit as a parent as it is for your child's. However, according to Mayoclinic.com, an unborn child's ears begin developing between 16-18 weeks after conception and may begin to hear sounds. By week 25 the baby should be responding to mother's voice by moving when they hear mom talk, or startling if they hear a sudden or loud noise. So your baby can start to hear you reading to them as early as 16 weeks after conception, which would be a fine time to start as this usually is when most women feel their baby move for the first time. Having already had a child myself, I can tell you that the pregnancy doesn't seem real until you feel your baby move, at least that's how it is for the first baby. So, if you want to start reading to your baby before 16 weeks gestation, more power to you, but you might feel a little silly.
Regardless of how early you choose to start reading to your child, most pediatricians will agree that you should have started by 1 yr, at the very latest. Reading to your child is a great way to help them start learning to speak, as well as learn shapes, colors, animals, even how to count... so long as you read children's books and make it an interactive experience by asking them to point to certain things in the pictures. It might surprise you just how quickly your child will catch on to things.
For Elsa, we started reading to her around 5 or 6 months. This was more due to Elsa's interest in books than anything else... as soon as she was able to crawl she was using the book case to stand up and play with my books. She holds the book the right way and turns the pages gently, even stopping to point to the words and move her mouth like she is reading. Maybe this is because she sees me reading all the time. She also shows an interest in my knitting and crocheting... just goes to show that your children are watching you from day one and will often develop an interest in whatever they see you doing the most, so be careful of what you let your children see you do.
How Should I Include Reading in our Daily Routine?
This is pretty easy but can be a struggle for some people. Reading a book or two to your child before nap and bed time is probably the easiest way to incorporate reading into your daily routine. Another way to add it in is to keep the children's books down where they can reach them. If your child wants a story during the day she may well pick up a book and bring it to you. Be sure to stop what you're doing, if you can, and read it to your child. This will encourage her to want to do more story time if she perceives that you are interested in it too.
If you would like to read to your child more than just at nap and bed times or when you child brings you a book then you can get books that deal with certain activities, like getting dressed, bath time, eating...etc... and read those books before preforming that activity. Barnes & Noble has a really great kid's section, I would recommend looking there for activity specific books.
I Cant Read Very Well but Still Want to Read to my Child. How Can I Do That?
Now it might seem silly for me to include a section about this but, don't be embarrassed, there actually are a lot of people out there, even in the US, who cannot read well or cannot read at all. These people generally understand and agree that knowing how to read, and read well, is an important skill to have and want their children to develop that ability. This section should be shared with those people, preferably by word of mouth.
There are plenty of books on tape or CD available at your local library. The book that goes with the tape or CD should also be available. You should play the tape while following along in the book. This is a great way to help mom or dad learn how to read, or read better, as well as teach little Susie to read too. This method of reading to your child also works if you CAN read but just dont like to read out loud.
What Should I Read to my Child?
There is a HUGE range of books to choose from when selecting childrens books. I might sound a little biased toward Barnes & Nobel, but they have a really great set up. Their entire store is broken up into age appropriate sections. The children's books are all in one area and even those are separated into sections based on age. In their online store you can search books for 0-2yrs, 3-5, 6-8 and so on.
For children 0-2yrs, board books or cloth books are best. They are more durable and less likely to fall apart when being chewed on or dragged around. For the younger portion of this age group lots of colors, textures, and even sounds are fun. For the older portion of the group you should start looking for books that are more interactive... ones where they are supposed to point to different objects, identify colors, count...etc. If you don't want to buy books that are specifically written like that then you can easily do this yourself using the books you may already have. Simply begin by asking your child to point to things in the book, ie 'Where is the bunny?', then as they grasp those concepts begin asking harder questions that involve colors, sizes and counting, ie 'Can you point to the big bunny?'.
For the older groups you should still look for educational books but you can start tailoring them to the individual interests of your child. There are hundreds of different books about ballerinas, dinosaurs, astronauts and babies, you're sure to find something your child will be interested in.
Hopefully, if you have done a good job in the early stages of development, your child will develop a love of reading and continue to enjoy it as they get older, at least till they get into Jr High School... then they'll probably start hating it. But that's a different story, and mostly beyond your control. Reading to your child provides many benefits that have far reaching effects. So be sure to spend a little more time on it. It really is worth the effort!