Reading to Babies and Toddlers: What You Need To Know - Medshield Movement

Reading to Babies and Toddlers: What You Need To Know

By Jessica Hathorn (Speech and Language Therapist, BSc Speech Language Pathology, UCT)

Reading is a phenomenal way to stimulate language and, therefore, brain development in children from a young age. Regular, good quality reading aloud should begin in early infancy and continue throughout childhood. Research has found that the quantity and quality of book reading in infancy and during the toddler years significantly impacts the development of children’s brains and neural pathways. It is also a predictor of the size of a child’s vocabulary and their early literacy skills.

Benefits of Reading Aloud to Babies & Toddlers

Reading to your child has a myriad of benefits including:

  • Improved language skills and brain development: Babies are born with 100 billion neurons (cells that receive, process and transmit information in the brain). With the right stimulation these neurons can connect with one another to form neural pathways (which are the foundations of learning). Reading aloud is a form of language exposure. Early language exposure significantly affects the way language networks (neural pathways) are formed in the brain. The more you read, the more exposure there is to language and the more neural pathways for language learning are formed.
  • Better vocabularies: The more language a child hears, the more words they are exposed to. The more words a child hears, the more words they learn the meaning of (receptive language) and the more words they will be able to use (expressive language). Research has found that the better the quality and the higher the quantity of book reading in early infancy, the greater the child’s vocabulary.
  • Faster mental processing speed: Rich engagement with language (such as through reading) shapes a child’s mental processing speed. Babies and toddlers who recognise words rapidly, have more time and energy to focus on other cognitive processes such as memory and reasoning. Research shows that children who have higher language engagement “get more” out of every interaction.
  • Better early literacy skills: Children exposed to regular, quality book reading from a young age have better early literacy skills. The rhythm, repetition and rhyme in books helps to lay down the neural networks for their own reading and spelling in the future.
  • Reading aloud provides quality time with parents: When reading with your child, you are spending quality, one-on-one time with them. In our busy world, it is so important for children to have daily quality time with their parents, even if it is just 20 minutes. When reading with your child, you should be in a quiet, distraction free environment, which reinforces the message to the child that they are important and that their parent prioritises them.

A Guide to Choosing the Best Books

The type of book that you read with your child has a significant impact on language learning. The research tells us there are a few key characteristics of the books young children learn language from the best. These are:

  1. Colourful books with realistic pictures.
  2. Board books with sturdy pages for little hands to turn.
  3. Photo albums with pictures of familiar people and places.
  4. Short books with simple language.
  5. Repetitive books that repeat words and phrases over and over.
  6. Interactive books with flaps to open and sections to touch and feel.

Tips for Reading to Babies & Toddlers:

  1. Start reading from birth and make it part of your daily routine e.g. at bedtime and read often, at least once a day.
  2. Choose the right book for your child’s level and area of interest.
  3. Make sure the environment is well lit, quiet and distraction free.
  4. Position yourself face to face with your child while reading.
  5. Adjust the book to their level by simplifying the text.
  6. Pointing out pictures on the page and elaborate on them e.g. “Look at the dog. The dog is brown. He says woof.”
  7. Use your tone of voice to create interest and emphasise words to develop understanding.
  8. Watch your speech rate and read slowly.
  9. Use gestures to enhance engagement and
  10. Use exclamatory words your child can imitate e.g. “Uh-oh!” “beep beep!”

As a parent there is so much pressure to make sure you are stimulating your child and giving them the best head start in life. It can be overwhelming knowing what you should be doing and when. It is important to know that an activity as simple as reading every day to your child can provide them with so many benefits giving their language and brain development a boost.

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