By Jacqueline Shaprow ~
When it comes to brain development during infancy, research shows that early experiences play an important role. Learning spoken and written language skills is a highly interactive process. Infants and toddlers develop literacy skills through positive interactions with adults and books. Author Judith Shickendanz, who studies early literacy behaviors, describes how an infant mouthing a book and a toddler turning pages of a book are early steps of language and literacy development.
These behaviors are the building blocks of language development:
- Book Handling Behaviors
Turning pages and chewing on books. As a baby chews on a book, he or she is learning about the physical characteristics of books. Babies use their mouths to learn about the objects around them.
Pointing at pictures of objects, gazing at pictures, or smiling at pictures in books.
- Picture Comprehension
Imitating an action observed in a picture.
- Story-Reading Behaviors
Babbling in imitation of an adult reading. Before you know it, your baby will gurgle, laugh, and babble as you read to them.
Integrate reading into the daily life of your baby and make it enjoyable:
- A few minutes is fine!
Infants have short attention spans, so they may not be able to sit through a whole story. Don’t rush through the story; instead enjoy the pictures, words, and sounds on each page, and if you only get through a few pages – that’s fine!
- Make it a morning or bedtime ritual
Create an enjoyable reading ritual that fits in well with you and your baby’s schedule. Some parents prefer to read a short story at bedtime, and others find that their baby enjoys stories most in the morning. Do whatever works for you. My baby enjoys our story telling time in the park – we’ve made a little ritual out of it.
- Make it fun!
Learning is not a competition. Books are supposed to be fun. Allowing your baby to have fun with books will facilitate the learning process.
- Let them turn pages
Allowing babies to turn the pages of a book, is a great way to engage them in the story. Remember that babies may need small books with thick pages so that they are able to turn the pages. It is ok if you skip a few pages while your baby is turning the pages, the act of turning pages will make reading a more interactive process for them.
- Keep it simple
Find simple, fun books to read aloud to your baby.
- Breathe life into the story
Use interesting voices as you tell the story, and use your facial expressions and body language to convey the actions in each story.
- Show babies the words
As you are reading to your baby, you may want to run your fingers beneath the words.
- Be responsive to your baby
Respond to your baby as she laughs and gurgles. Encourage your baby to babble by mimicking the sounds she makes while you are reading.
- Personalize the story
You may want to talk about your own family or pets, as you read a story about another person’s family and pets. For example, at the end of a story that describes all of the Sesame Street characters, I personalize it by describing our own family members to my baby girl.
Babies love songs. As you are reading a story, you may choose to sing a few pages to keep your baby engaged and entertained.
- Turn the television off
Reading time should be a quiet, special time – and there should not be any background noise from a television or radio.
- Play word games
As you read to your baby, play rhyming games and give her an opportunity to make sounds with you.
- Engage your baby in a conversation
Even if your baby does not understand the meaning of the words you use, you should talk to your baby as often as possible. Talk to your baby while you are reading to her, and talk to your baby while you are changing her diaper or giving her a bath. Allow conversation to happen naturally – a book does not always have to be present for learning to take place.
Sharing books with infants is essential to early literacy, and making reading an enjoyable experience is important when it comes to early language development. The tips above will help you create a more relaxed and engaging learning environment for your baby with books – one which promotes learning.
About the Author
Jacqueline Shaprow is a writer, an attorney, and she is a graduate of Yale University. Her psychological research was published in the Journal of Health Psychology, presented at the NAASO Conference, and distributed internationally. Shaprow resides in Los Angeles with her daughter, Arianna, and teaches a Decision Making Course to pregnant women and new mothers. This course assists single mothers with making positive life decisions, and it evaluates the psychological processes underlying the decisions we make.
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