“My mother-in-law told me that she’d read Shakespeare to Andrew when he was a baby,” a friend told me a long time ago. Today, Andrew is a renowned professor of economics and an elderly man, so his mother must have been a very wise woman if she instinctively did something that scientists “discovered” much later – she read to an infant.
When should you start reading aloud?
You can start reading aloud even before the child is born. Expectant mothers have long known that pregnant women should listen to good, carefully selected music. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that reading can be started as early as in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Dads also can read “to the bump.” Even a five-month-old foetus begins to hear the sounds in the immediate area. A half–year-old baby is able to pick up the rhythm and melody of speech. In the final four months they can recognize the voices of their mum, dad, or siblings and even read the accompanying emotions. Including the emotions connected with reading aloud and the parent’s familiar voice will make the child feel safer. Moreover, when you read to your child before they are born, you establish the first close bond with them, as child psychologist Magdalena Kielbratowska emphasises: “When reading (…) we soften our voice because we are addressing a living being whom we love. And the child feels that and establishes the first bond with the adult, whether it is Mum or Dad reading.”
A child in the womb does not understand the words or the message, so it is important to read emphatically, so that the emotions are clearer. Change and modulate your voice, pay attention to the rhythm and volume. When reading a fairy tale, make the witch’s voice “deep” and princess’s “high.” To make reading and rhythm more interesting, you can also make up your own melodies for some of the passages.
Involving older brothers or sisters in the activity is a great idea. If they can already read well, they can help and do it instead of a parent. But if they’re too little, they can listen too!
An unborn baby can listen to anything, even Shakespeare… But the chosen book must be enjoyed by the reading person and stir their emotions. Of course, these may be fairy tales or rhymes, for example those we remember from our childhood, because their rhythm will soothe the baby. Psychologists claim that an infant who listened to specific stories in the womb, after birth will “prefer” the same, familiar, ones and will fall asleep easier when listening to them.
It’s never too late to begin the habit of reading aloud. If you didn’t read to your child during pregnancy, perhaps try it when the infant begins to connect with the world? When they begin react to toys or smile.
Why is it important to start reading books to your child as early as possible?
Psychologists and educationalists believe that:
- Reading to children makes their brains develop faster – before they learn how to speak, they try to understand speech. For this, they must hear spoken language, also during reading.
- Children who are read to develop speech faster
- Children become more eloquent and focused – reading builds up their vocabulary.
- Children feel important and appreciated when you find the time for reading each day. It builds a strong bond between the adult and the child.
- Reading books sensitizes children – by experiencing the adventures of book characters, children understand their own feelings better. They also learn a lot about the world, because they listen about things they can’t experience themselves.
Before our child is big enough to tackle more challenging books, father or mother must introduce them into the world of reading. A few-month-old baby will love books with large pictures and lively colours. At first, they might also have other ideas than “reading.” For example, turning pages might be more fun, or having a go at literature with tongue and teeth. At this stage the books should be safe to bite and chew.
Experts usually suggest starting reading aloud with rhymes and poems for kids. Even if your child doesn’t understand the words (yet), they can enjoy the rhythm and cadence. But remember, these are just suggestions. Rhymes may bore some children who might prefer books appropriate for their development. And even if we believe that reading aloud is not something we’re good at and that a recording with an actor sounds better – don’t give up! For children, it’s the time they spend with their parents that counts.
Typically, parents read to children before sleep; that calms them down and usually that’s when parents have time for that. But books can be read also while bathing, travelling or waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s. Often, a little child needs only two or three rhymes. To avoid disturbing other people, lower your voice when reading. Recently the Internet got excited over a photo of a father reading “Winnie the Pooh” to his child while on a train.
We asked the father: How often do you read to your child on a train? Very often, it’s a ritual of sorts. Usually, I have a book on me in case my son asks me to read to him. And one more important question: How can we instil the love for reading in children? I think – said the father – it must come naturally, without a special effort. If reading at home is something normal, it will become a part of their life.
Until what age should we read aloud to children?
Reading parents often believe that when their child goes to school, it’s time for them to stop doing that, that the child should now read by themselves – says Irena Kozminska, the founder of an organization that promotes reading. And for a small, still unskilled reader it is a great challenge. So if parents don’t want all those years of reading go to waste, they should read to the child longer, even until they are 12 or more.
Irena Kozminska emphasises the irreplaceable functions of parents: If parents don’t play or talk with children, if they don’t read – instead, putting them in front of a screen, these children have no chance for proper speech development, because in order to learn, a child needs an emotional connection with a close, living person. Luckily, this awareness spreads and the number of families where everyday reading is a ritual increases.
It is important to understand that children should associate reading with pleasure.