Parents of babies spend a lot of time on a small number of things—feeding, entertaining, and especially trying to get the babe to sleep for a few long stretches at a time. So it’s hard to imagine asking this tired parent to spend time developing the baby’s skills for later reading. But the good news is that the time spent doing exactly those things is also an opportunity to invest in laying the foundational skills that support strong reading in the years to come. Read here about the three things you can do to build your child’s reading skills from birth, and then it should start to make more sense!
- Create daily routines and predictability.
Why is this so important? From the earliest days, it’s important for babies to begin to feel secure and safe in the world and connected to people in their lives—this lays the foundation for strong social and emotional skills, which are critical to reading success. And one of the best ways to build this foundation is through daily routines and predictability–doing some of the same things each day, at fairly consistent times, especially around sleeping, eating, and playing. These routines might be really brief moments in the day (a song that you sing or play each time you are laying her in her crib) or they might be a bit longer. For example, maybe after the baby has finished eating, there is a spot on the floor with a blanket and a few of the same toys each time—at first, you help her play with the rattle and before long, she is doing that herself. She comes to like that spot, is learning how to play, and getting connected to people and things in her environment. This consistency in her day will help her know what to expect, which will help her feel calm and settled, and soothe more easily. But also she’ll have the confidence to try things on her own, like entertaining herself or putting herself back to sleep—which tells us she’s starting to manage her own emotions and behavior.
- Talk to your baby.
Why is this so important? Decades of research tells us that one of the strongest connections to later reading is a child’s early language skills. You might wonder about that connection—well, it’s really about having the language to understand the words and ideas that show up in books. But we know that children can’t learn all that language at the same time as they are learning how to read the words on the page as first graders. So the strong reader is a child who is already familiar with a lot of the words and ideas that show up in books. And it takes years to build up language. Long before they can talk, babies are taking in the language they hear—by listening to the voices and the everyday sounds around them—in the house, the car, and the stroller—and interacting with people in their lives. And they are also learning about language. So you can start to see why we are bringing up reading skills with the parents of babies. Talking to your babe is where it all begins.
- Read to your baby.
Why is this so important? We know that children need lots of language to learn about the world, and to learn lots of language means lots of experiences with language—in both cases, that’s where books come in. When children are read to from the beginning, they hear the language of books, which is often different from the way we speak, and they start to learn a little about all kinds of topics. And when they get older and are beginning to read on their own, they will be more likely to know something about the topics they are reading about, which makes it easier to learn even more from books. When you read to your baby, you also are giving her a chance to develop a positive feeling about books– and hopefully those positive feelings will encourage her to want to learn to read, and to read a lot when she gets older.
That’s why we say that even during some of the long, often-foggy days of parenting a baby, there are easy ways to begin to lay the foundation for strong reading — and it really can all be done while you are juggling everything else with a new baby.