It is commonly understood that reading aloud is beneficial in developing a love of books and therefore a love of learning in children. However, when should it all begin? Some parents begin reading to their babies while they are still in the womb. Others begin when you're child starts bringing books home to be read for homework. Australian children's author Mem Fox believes in reading to your child from as early as possible; she suggests, "Reading aloud to children everyday from their first year of life until they start school (and beyond) changes their lives forever" ('Herald/Sun' 7/12/2003).
Have you ever wondered why some kids actually choose to bury their heads in a well-thumbed Lord of the Rings novel, and others just want to watch it on DVD? While we often assume that there are those who are "readers" by nature, and those who are not, we may actually play a larger role in instilling the love of words in our children than we realise, and from a surprisingly early age.
So just how do you read to your baby? This simple five-point guide may help get you started:
1. When to read
Find a moment when your baby is quiet but alert, perhaps after a feed, play or sleep. Once you are familiar with your baby's routine and ways of communicating with you, it will become easier to find the best time.
2. Where to read
Sit in a cuddly position with your baby to read. Children come to associate reading with comfort and enjoyment this way. Make sure the book is close to them so that they can see and touch the book.
3. What to read
Have some very simple Board Books, or Cloth Books on hand to read. Not just stories, but books with songs and nursery rhymes are great as are interactive books with things to touch, feel and hear are very appealing for babies. Head to your local library or bookshop - there is a wonderful selection to choose from these days. Special e-Readers are also a good option. For example VTech Flip. According to the article "eBook Readers for Children" (dbReaders), it is the kid's version of the Kindle, Nook or Sony reader, and is in full color with animation and illustrations.
Books about things you may have done, or seen with your baby are a great way to expand on and reinforce recent events. For example, if you saw ducks in the park, read a book with pictures of ducks in it.
4. How to read
Read with animation in your voice. Don't worry about feeling silly; you will be rewarded when your baby grows to love particular parts of a book because of the sounds you make. This is also known as "voice inflection" and is defined as "the way we change the tone of our voice to emphasise key words" ('Speaking of Speech', Harrington and Le Beau).
With the right tone of voice and inflection appropriate to a baby's development you can read almost anything. The Editorial section of a newspaper can even be read to calm a baby, if the tone of voice is right!
Use all the senses. If the story has wind blowing, then gently blow into your baby's neck. If the story has movement, then bounce your baby gently on your knee. If the crocodile "snaps", then gently pretend to "snap" your baby's tummy with your fingers. Once they have become familiar with the story they will begin to "squirm" in delightful anticipation as the "crocodile gets ready to snap". This is actually teaching story prediction (knowing what comes next).
5. What then?
Once your baby has a few books they like, then leave them in accessible places for them to find, the bottom of a bookshelf or a basket. In time you will begin to see them pulling out the books and "reading" them for themselves. They will flip the pages and chatter to themselves. You may even hear them start to mimic the voices you do. By the time they can move around the house they will be bringing their favourite books for you to read to them. A wonderful, but maddening thing when you are trying to cook dinner!
The 'pre-reading' skills can begin to develop from a very early age. Skills such as holding the books the right way up, turning the pages in sequence (babies, as young as four months, can flip a board book page over with their fist as you are reading to them), exploring pictures and learning that the words are read to tell a story. These are all essential skills for children learning to read.
Most importantly, read for the fun of it!
Reading isn't about trying to push your child to be a gifted baby; it is about giving the gift of stories to your child. The discovery that there is something lovely within the pages of a book is the best reading lesson you can ever give your baby, and when they're older, they may just be carrying the latest kids' novel around with them, instead of a Nintendo D.S.