Foster a love of reading from infancy

By Sarah Sawler on March 25, 2013
All parents know their child is amazing. Now research is showing that our babies are even smarter than we thought. Within the first couple of months of life, they’re already beginning to develop their passive vocabulary by learning the difference between similar and different word sounds (phonemes). It was this research that inspired Dr. Richard Goldbloom to become involved in the Read to Me! program in Halifax.

A book titled Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children caught Dr. Goldbloom’s attention and led him to explore the implications of early reading. The researchers studied the volume of words spoken between parents and children in various socioeconomic environments.

“They found that when they recorded parent-child interactions from ‘middle class’ families, parents spoke over 300,000 words over the first year of their child’s life. In the lower income families, the total was one-tenth of that – only 30,000 words,” says Dr. Goldbloom. Many of the low-income homes had no books, or very few.

Then he encountered a research project that was being done by a graduate student who was studying the reactions of babies to phonemes. The student found that if a phoneme like “ba” was repeated to a child enough times, the baby’s brain would respond to the sound. Then the student discovered that if she changed the sound to “wa”, the baby would no longer respond. “That suggested to me that the ability to recognize parts of words, which is very fundamental to reading, is there right from early infancy. All of that added up to ‘How do we get parents to read to their children more often?’” says Dr. Goldbloom.

The Read to Me! program strives to accomplish just that. Read to Me! is an early reading program that encourages parents to read to their very young babies. Each new baby born in Nova Scotia receives a bag filled with books, a CD, and baby’s first library card. The bags are available in English, Arabic, French, Chinese and Mi’kmaq.

There are also special book resources for hearing impaired and visually impaired families. The board members of Read to Me! realized that the easiest way to ensure the program reached everyone would be to distribute the bags before the baby goes home from the hospital. In the midst of blood tests, hearing tests and form completion, the book delivery is a welcome interruption.

With our busy lifestyles and increased reliance on texting and social media, conversation is slowly becoming a thing of the past. “The more words the baby hears, the more the baby will speak, and probably sooner, as well,” says Dr. Goldbloom. No matter how busy the day, we need to make the time to read to our children – even our very youngest. So put down the cell phone, pick up Goodnight Moon, and get ready to help your baby be even more amazing.

How to grow a bookworm

Choose an appropriate book. Babies are attracted to black and white patterns, and bright colours. Pat-a-Cake, by Annie Kubler, Go, Baby, Go! by Marilyn Janovitz and Kisses, Kisses Baby-O! by Sheree Fitch are some of the books included in the Read to Me! book bag. These other recent releases are all destined to become baby classics.
Counting Kisses by Karen Katz
Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug by Susan Musgrave
It’s a Little Book by Lane Smith
We Belong Together by Joyce Wan
Who Loves You, Baby? by Nina Laden
Baby’s Lullaby by Jill Barber
Kitten’s Spring by Eugenie Fernandes

Choose books with small amounts of text on each page. Rhyming or sing-song text is ideal.

Babies love faces! Choose books with photos of happy faces to accompany the story.

Read and talk to your baby every day to increase the number of words he hears and to develop his passive vocabulary.

Babies are musical. Singing engages them and exposes them to language.

Cuddle with your baby while you read. This will both encourage the parent-child bond and will encourage baby to associate reading with comfort.

Choose books with illustrations that have strong connections with the text. Babies will eventually learn to make the connections.

Start reading to your baby as early as you can. This will make reading a solid part of the daily routine.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

By Sarah Sawler| March 25, 2013

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