For the Love of Books
by Leanne Willetts (now Dyck) Child Care Worker III
When we think of reading to infants and young children many questions arise. Here I will answer three of the most commonly asked questions.
What, if anything, does the infant gain from this type of experience?
The positive effects of the reading experience are four-fold. To begin with reading is of immense benefit to early language acquisition. The infant is repeatedly exposed to a few words in an interesting and stimulating format providing him/her with a golden opportunity to expand upon a limited vocabulary at a manageable pace. Second, reading is an effective way to strengthen the bond of adult to baby. During those few precious moments, the child has your total attention, nothing exists in the universe except the two of you. Third, the sound of your voice is a wonderful preparation for nap or bed time. Fourth, the fine illustrations found in picture books provide excellent visual stimuli. Illustrators draw from the limited experience of the young child's world. They draw common items such as balls, cats, dogs, faces, which the child no doubt has had experience with. Infants are by nature egocentric and these illustrations have great appeal to them.
I'm no Robert Munsch, how can I even attempt to read to a baby?
Even Robert Munsch had to and still has to, practice. Most babies are a very receptive audience. They are perfectly content to lay there and listen to you. By using Robert Munsch and other storyteller's techniques you can enhance the reading experience. Some of these techniques are:
-Point out similarities between the world of the book and his/her world. Say something like, "Mary has a green ball just like the one in the picture."
-Ask questions and allow time for him/her to respond, whether there is a verbal, non-verbal, or no response. Allowing time for the infant to respond even before such communication is likely will prepare the child to pick up on the cue. Such preparation will make it more likely that an older child will take a more active role in the reading experience.
-Talk about and draw interest in the illustrations. If the illustration is of an animal point to the animal and comment on its name and the sound it makes.
-Use gestures. When you read the word B-I-G use your body to dramatize the word.
-Vary voice tone: from low to high; loud to soft; slow to fast.
-Use eye contact.
-Use your imagination; vary the text, expand the story, use your creativity--remember nothing is written in stone.
-Use your genuine interest in the reading experience. If you show enthusiasm for what you are reading the baby will pick up on that.
The more you practice the better you will become. However, before everything else, please remember the needs of the young audience should be paramount. The book is there for the enjoyment of the baby. If you sense an infant's attention lagging, stop, and read again later. Make the reading experience as positive as possible.
How soon can I start reading to a baby?
As soon as you begin talking to a baby, you can begin to read to him/her. Research has found that an early positive exposure to the reading experience will help the child slip naturally into the habit of reading.