Sometimes it can seem a little, well, pointless to read books to babies who seem more interested in chewing the pages rather than listen to the story. But, keep at it, moms and dads, as recent research shows early reading during infancy has benefits that can last until your child is ready for school.
“What they're learning when you read with them as infants still has an effect four years later when they're about to begin elementary school,” said lead author Carolyn Cates, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine.
Presented at the Pediatric American Societies Meeting, the study found that reading with a child beginning in infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills until preschool age.
Research involved over 250 mother-and-child pairs who were monitored starting from when the babies were 6 months old until 4 and a half years old (54 months). Data was constantly collected on how they could understand a word and for their early literacy and reading skills.
Also noted were the parent and child’s book reading habits including the days per week the pair spent reading together and the number of books in the participants’ homes. The quality of shared book-reading was gauged by finding out if the parents interacted with their child while reading, which included talking about the pictures in the book and the emotions of the characters.
Researchers found that babies who had quality book-reading sessions with their parents had a higher chance of developing early reading skills. Book-reading quality and quantity during the toddler years also had a strong association to literacy skills, such as being able to write their name at 4 years old.
The study affirms the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommend reading to your child beginning at birth. Reading aloud to newborns encourages word learning, literacy, and positive family relationships, added the AAP.
Don’t worry if your baby gets distracted or bored in the middle. There’s no need to read the whole book to your infant, said Dr. Pamela High, lead author of the AAP’s reading recommendation. Bright colors and rhyming words can grab her attention for a bit, but it won't last. So during these early years, you can concentrate on the pages you and your child enjoy the most.
Don’t take story time with your baby for granted -- dive into this bonding activity even if your baby can't respond to you yet in words. As the study suggests, have conversations with your child while you’re reading to her and have many books readily available at home.
The important thing is that you’re having fun during story time. “It starts with the parent's enjoyment and then becomes a shared enjoyment,” Dr. High told Time. Once your child sees how much you value books and the time you share reading together, you’ll slowly be raising a reader in no time.