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Reading to your baby

The developmental benefits of regularly reading to your baby explained plus advice on how to make the most of this activity together.
An increasing number of young children are starting school without the language skills they need to cope with even basic tasks, and as research has shown that there appears to be a direct link between language exposure and academic performance, shunning tv and spending time enjoying books with your child has never been more important. Even before he or she can understand the words or the pictures presented in books, your baby will reap the rewards from time spent reading together.

The benefits

It's well known that the first few years of life are the most important in terms of learning and development. The stimuli we are exposed to during this time helps to lay the neural foundations for more complex learning as we grow. Reading with your baby helps to stimulate almost all aspects of development which is perhaps why children whose parents regularly read to them seem to have enhanced learning and behavioural skills compared to those who don't have the opportunity to enjoy this experience.
  • Language development - By the end of the first year of life we have unconsciously learnt all of the sounds we need to communicate in our native language. Reading to your baby helps to reinforce these basic sounds and teaches them the patterns and rhythms in which they are used in speech. Perhaps most obviously, reading to your baby also helps to build their vocabulary and their understanding of how speech is used .
  • Attentional development - Reading to your baby from a young age really helps develop attentional skills such as listening and memory. By using different voices for different characters you can also help to reinforce the basic communicational aspects of speech that are necessary for conversation ie. while one person talks, the other person listens and vice versa.
  • Informational development - Although very young babies don't have the ability to follow what you are talking about when you read to them, gradually they learn to associate images, events, actions and objects with the words used to describe them. They also learn about colours, numbers, shapes and other descriptives which helps them to build up a picture of the world around them. Talking about the pictures with your baby and repeating the words will help to reinforce the image -to-real world associations.
  • Social development - The one to one time you spend reading to your baby helps them to feel secure and loved and provides them with the undivided attention they need to thrive. Additionally, the emotions you convey in your voice when you read also help to promote your baby's emotional understanding in themselves and others.
  • Cognitive development - By reading to your baby you are stimulating the highly important cognitive skills that allow them to judge and understand the world around them and their role within it.
Making the most of it

When reading to your baby you should cuddle him or her close to you so that he or she can see the book as you read, this not only makes them feel relaxed and secure so that they are in the best position to learn, but also makes it easy for you to point things out as you go along. Reading a favourite book again and again will help baby to become familiar with, and enjoy this activity even more.

As younger babies have short attention spans you need only read to them for a few minutes at a time - however, try to do this several times throughout the day. As your baby grows and can hold books themselves, choose chunky, fabric or interactive books that really capture your infants attention and show them how fun reading can be. Leave these around the house, in your baby's nursery and toy box so that they're readily available when your baby wants to play.

Pop a favourite book in your changing bag when you go out so that you always have one to hand when you have a few minutes to spare or need to distract or entertain your little one. An evening routine that involves a bedtime story in the nursery after a bath can be a great way to signal to your little one that its the end of the day and time to go to sleep, plus research has shown that hearing a familiar story can actually help to soothe and calm babies, making it a great way to help difficult to settle babies into the land of nod.

Choosing books with clear, simple images, imaginative stores and repetitive words and phrases will help to maximise your baby's learning and understanding. However, as with anything, encouraging your baby to read is very much a case of practicing as you preach - by having books around the house and regularly reading yourself, your baby will be more likely to mimic your behaviour and be more willing to incorporate reading into their daily routine as they grow.

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