For children, reading is an activity that has a huge range of advantages. The most readily apparent of these is that it can help them with their vocabulary as well as their understanding of the world and the people in it. But did you know reading to our babies from the time they’re born (or even before!) has its own benefits?
Reading to our children is one of the primary ways we can help improve their literacy by having them read along with us – using a finger to point out each word, then discussing the story afterwards. But over and above literacy, reading to our children, including our babies, can help with everything from language development to bonding. There are also extra benefits that extend even to those children who experience hearing loss. For example, a pilot study from 2019 found that reading to babies with hearing loss resulted in increased parent-child eye contact and turn-taking1, helping babies prepare for developing early social skills2.
There are books available for children of all ages, including newborns. Of course, books for newborn babies are vastly different from those aimed at early readers. In fact, some of those early baby books don’t even contain words – instead, they are often cardboard books with high-contrast colours and shapes that you can point to and name as your baby’s eyes, still adjusting to being in the outside world, get used to focusing on things in front of them. Not only do they get to look at interesting new shapes and listen to the sound of your voice, but it’s the perfect chance for some cuddle time with mum or dad, too! Having reading time after a feed and a change gives you both the chance to just relax for a short while, and the rhythmic sound of your voice reading a book can often lull tiny bodies and minds to sleep. Making it part of bedtime makes it much easier to make time for reading on a regular basis, and it’s a wonderful way to get some quality time with the little ones at the end of the day.
As they get older, reading out loud to children can be a key component of furthering their vocabulary, by introducing them to a diverse assortment of language uses. They can also get exposure to increasingly complex sentence structures in an easy-to-follow format, with the benefit of having someone explain concepts they may not understand. Reading a wide variety of books – in any language – not only presents them with new words, but different ways of using those words. And research has found that these benefits apply even when controlling for parental factors such as income or education levels3. By building their vocabulary, children are already at an advantage when it comes to them learning to read themselves. Sounding out a word and linking it to one they already know is far easier than trying to sound out a word they’ve never heard before and so have nothing to compare it to.
Everything mentioned up until now is true, but also somewhat dry. The truth is, reading to children is fun. It’s amazing to watch their faces as they listen. Their imaginations take over as they interpret the words you’re reading and use them to build an entirely new world. The description of the pirate ship, or the animals in the jungle, or the kid who is secretly a spy come to life in their minds. It’s also possible to get personalised books in which they are the main character. Some of these even have a place to insert a photo of your child so they can see themselves right there next to all the other characters! As they grow older, their favourite stories can frequently stay in their minds. It’s not uncommon for children to use these stories as a basis when they draw, illustrating what they saw in their imaginations as they listened, or when they're creating games, and it’s equally common for them to go back to read and re-read them time and time again. Children can even use books and stories as a basis for developing hand-eye coordination by replicating scenes or characters using the toys they have, from blocks to dolls and more. A fantastic opportunity for them to build these particular skills is the Silicone Arch Stacker Set. Each arch is a different size, so they can be used to form a huge range of different shapes, making it a great way to incorporate story time with play time, especially for those younger ones.
And all of that is to say nothing of the warm nostalgia that comes from reading books we ourselves enjoyed as children, or the new understanding we can have of those same stories – some of them have a whole other level of meaning that we couldn’t grasp the first time around, but sure do when we’re reading to our own kids.
Reading, whether by themselves or listening to you as you read to them, gives children the chance to put themselves in the shoes of an infinite variety of other people and situations. The opportunities reading provides are enormous – as well as academic learning, there’s a body of evidence to suggest that a long-term reading habit helps our ability to empathise4, lowers stress, and helps with our sleep5.
1Brown, M., Trembath, D., Westerveld, M., & Gillon, G. (2019). A pilot study of early storybook reading with babies with hearing loss. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 62(9), 3397-3412. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-17-0305
2Farroni, T., Csibra, G., Simion, F., & Johnson, M. (2002). Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99(14), 9602-9605. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.152159999
3Kalb, G., & van Ours, J. (2014). Reading to young children: A head-start in life? Economics of Education Review, 40, 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2014.01.002
4Guarisco, M., Brooks, C., & Freeman, L. (2017). Reading books and reading minds: Differential effects of Wonder and The Crossover on empathy and theory of mind. Study & Scrutiny: Research on Young Adult Literature. https://doi.org/10.15763/issn.2376-5275.2017.3.1.24-54
5Benefits of reading books: How it can positively affect your life. (n.d.). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books