Are you in the first year of parenting a new baby? Or are you expecting your new arrival any day now? For many parents, the first year of life with an infant seems to whiz by at lightening speed. In fact, your life could be so full of activity with your baby that you’ve not yet had a chance to begin a reading ritual with your little one.
It’s true – both you and your baby have two obvious needs in common during the first year together – sleep and time! If you’re feeling short on time with the busyness of parenting an infant during the first year and think that reading aloud to your baby can wait, think again. Earlier this year, Time magazine ran an article called Read to Your Baby, Say Doctors – But Which Books? It’s a good question.
Some parents begin talking to and reading to their children while they are in the womb. Upon birth, an incredible opportunity emerges for you and your baby to start engaging consistently in literacy experiences. Early literacy experiences will prime your baby’s brain to develop optimally for learning in the present and in the future. According to Sean Brotherson’s article titled Keys to Enhancing Brain Development in Young Children:
30 to 60 percent of our brain’s wiring depends on heredity, while about 40 to 70 percent develops on interactions based on the environment, including parents.
Training in infant brain development is not something that most parents have in their knowledge toolkit before bringing home an infant. We try to do our best with what we know, don’t we?
Kindergarten and primary teachers typically begin to strategically work on literacy skills with five-year olds, therefore teacher preparation programs don’t include training about infant literacy development. One important reflection exercise and action plan for parents is to determine why and how they can support their baby’s literacy development at home.
Here are 3 tips to get started with literacy through a mindful reading ritual with your baby:
1. Determine Your Purpose.
As with anything in life, knowing your purpose, makes thinking through and planning a task much clearer and more straightforward. The act of reading to your baby is no different. Reading to anyone invites responses such as feelings, thinking and being.
Some questions to ask yourself as you begin planning an appropriate reading ritual for you and your baby could include:
- How do you want your baby to feel as you read a book?
- How do you want to feel as you share a book with your baby?
- What thinking processes is your baby capable of at this particular time and stage of development? How do you know?
- What colours and types of images attract your baby’s curiosity and attention?
The answers to these questions provide a great foundation upon which you can begin to design an intentional reading ritual that meets your unique parenting needs and your baby’s needs for language stimulation. If you’re unsure of where a particular answer may lead you in terms of books choices, have a conversation with a children’s librarian, your pediatrician and perhaps with an early childhood educator for more support, resources and additional ideas.
2. Create the Right Conditions.
There is a whole area of research on the positive value of “learning spaces” in the field of education. Experienced professional educators like myself, are increasingly looking at how we create spaces for interacting and learning with our students. As a parent, I continually take stock of how my own child and I organize, represent and engage in family “shared areas” in our home. I also continue to refine, modify and adapt the timing of the reading routines that I’ve shared with my own child throughout his infancy, early childhood, childhood and now – his “tween” years.
For example, if you want to ensure that you create a reading ritual that allows you and baby to feel safe, comfortable and calm, you may choose to always read in an area with soft lighting, a cosy armchair large enough for you and baby and a comfortable room temperature. Whether you are aware of it or not, the physical environment informs your baby with particular messages about the world (as well as how to be with you when hearing you read aloud).
There’s no doubt that the lighting, temperature, amount of furniture, smells and other stimuli – such as a television or other screen technology in the background – will be part of what your baby learns about the world during your reading routine. Being intentional and mindful of what you want your baby to pick up from your habits from the very beginning is first critical step to creating the right conditions for your baby to begin hearing you read aloud.
If you’ve noticed your baby has begun to coo, smile or laugh upon hearing you make certain animal sounds and funny faces, you might choose a durable and colourful animal picture book designed for infants. In this situation, just one or two words on each page is the perfect support for engaging your infant in the important repetitive language and opportunities. Playfulness with positive emotions, oral language and visual symbols are possible through reading aloud picture books.
Thinking about what you value as a family and as a larger community member might also figure into your book choices. For example, if consciousness of a loving parent-child bond is vitally important to you, you might choose a book showing large images of loving parent/child facial expressions and body language. Books with a very limited amount of text and rhyming language are ideal if you want your baby to begin to understand how sounds, rhythm and intonation can generate positive feelings.
3. Practice Mindfully Every Day.
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word “ritual” means:
done as part of ceremony or ritual; always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.
This definition can help you begin thinking about how to create a mindful reading ritual with your infant. When applied to reading to your baby, it means to read to your baby in a consistent manner and situation each and every time. The trouble with this definition when applying is that may feel too rigid and inflexible. Inflexible thinking can present challenges when it comes to parenting an infant – or when relating to any living being for that matter!
By expanding upon the definition of “ritual” to include a mindful practice each time you read to your infant, you will enhance the enjoyment and effectiveness for both you and your baby, both now and in the years to come. A mindful practice in this situation means paying close attention to where your baby is right now in his or her cognitive and social development. In other words, continue to be open to your baby’s feelings and signs of communicating with you moment-by-moment.
It is worthwhile to check in periodically as the months go by to remind yourself of the limitations and potentials of your baby’s particular stage of cognitive development. A helpful resource for both teachers and parents is the American Psychological Association’s pages on Research in Brain Function and Learning.
Your baby’s literacy needs will change gradually over the first year of life and then dramatically as they begin communicating with you about the books you share with them.
All the loving, mindful attention you spend reading to your infant will likely pay off once your child enters preschool or Kindergarten. You’ll have fulfilled the core prerequisites for “reading readiness” that most schools either presume (or hope) that you’ve provided to your child during the infant (and toddler years) prior to entering a formal schooling system.
Books Ideas to Read Aloud to Baby
Literacy development and creating a reading ritual needn’t be fancy, elaborate or difficult. Every family will have their own unique reading approach that is is appropriate for their situation. If at all possible, purchase the sturdier board-book version of picture books so they can stand up to your baby’s attempts to chew on the book.
Here are some ideas for short books to read aloud to your baby during their first year of life:
- Peek-a-boo! by Roberta Grobel Intrater
- Baby Faces by DK Publishing
- Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
- Animal Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
- Goodnight Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
- Noisy Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
- Baby Animal Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
What great picture books do you enjoy reading with your baby? Please share the titles in the comments below!
Read to your Baby, Say Doctors – But Which Books? (Time magazine online, June 24, 2014)
Research in Brain Functioning and Learning: The Importance of Matching Instruction to a Child’s Maturity Level (American Psychological Association online)
Bright Beginnings #5: Keys to Enhancing Brain Development in Young Children (Sean Brotherson, Family Science Specialist, NDSU, July 2005)