The Importance of Reading to Babies

ReadingAs a librarian, a linguist, and an English major, I highly value and understand the importance of reading to young children. When I was a child, I loved getting lost in the world of books. As soon as I learned how to read, I was off and running. The first book that I really remember reading myself is Little House in the Big Woods during second grade. From that point on, I would read a book a week and then a few books a week and then a few books a day. Even now as an adult, I still read as much as possible. From books to newspapers to blogs, I love reading.

I began passing my love of reading, books, and language on to my daughter as soon as she was born. Between birth and six months old, newborns and infants are especially sensitive to the sounds of language. Reading aloud to a very young baby sets the stage for language acquisition right. Newborns can hear every sound possible in human language. As babies grow, the sounds of their first language become most important to the exclusion of other language sounds. Furthermore, reading aloud to a young baby provides much of the interaction needed for all aspects of healthy development.

The first book that I ever read to my daughter was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She was just a few days old when I started reading to her. I like to think that she liked that the Harry Potter series started out with baby Harry. I read her a chapter or two a day. Sure, she did not understand the words that I was reading, but she was learning nonetheless. Plus, I will always cherish the time that I got to spend passing my love of both reading and Harry Potter to her when she was a tiny newborn.

Between six and twelve months old, infants fine tune their ability to detect the sounds of their first language. Although still able to hear all the sounds of human language, babies this age begin to prefer the sounds of their first language. Older infants continue to pick up the sounds and intonations patterns of the language around them. Reading aloud at this age reinforces that language acquisition.

When I went back to work at my library when my daughter was four months old, I immediately started checking out books to read to her. I picked out stories with words and stories with just pictures. I also read her whatever book I happened to be reading at the time which included nonfiction books on American Sign Language and The Hunger Games trilogy. At this age, she loved hearing me read aloud to her. She also loved looking at the pictures in the board books that I brought home for her. Although her dexterity was still developing at the time, she already loved physically touching and manipulating books. By the time she turned a year old, my daughter was a lover of books.

Between twelve and eighteen months old, young toddlers are busy expanding their vocabularies. Babbling becomes more focused, and many young toddlers can say a word or two. Reading aloud to children at this age introduces more and more words into their vocabulary and continues to teach them the sounds including intonation patterns of their first language. More is definitely better in terms of reading aloud for language development.

My daughter is now seventeen months old, I continue to read aloud to her as much as possible. For example, she and I have been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. I have also been reading her criticism on the Star Wars franchise. She and I also read her library of books together. For her first birthday and then for Christmas, she received quite a few books as gifts including some Sesame Street and Elmo books. Whenever she and I go to a thrift store, I always check the book section for some inexpensive, previously loved books to buy her. My husband also reads to her when he hangs out with her while I am at word. My daughter loves books so much, in fact, that, when I leave her in the living room to go shower at night, I often come back to find her reading one of her books to herself.

Between eighteen and twenty-four months, toddler talking continues to explode to the point that many older toddlers can say around fifty words. Reading aloud continues to expose young children to language, which is so important for language development. I know that, as my daughter gets older, I will continue to read to her as much as possible. Reading aloud to children is so important for language development and for fostering a love of reading.

How often do you read aloud to your child? Does your child love books?

Image Credits


Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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