Updated: May 19, 2020
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So you want to raise a reader? Of course you do! The benefits of reading are well-known when it comes to academic success but reading also helps children develop traits like empathy and even reduces stress. If you want your child to be smart AND kind AND calm, then you definitely want to know how to get your child to love reading.
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: Reading to Babies
The best place to start is always at the beginning. Which in this case means when your baby is still fresh from the womb. Your voice was one of the first sounds they heard and is still a source of comfort and familiarity. Reading, talking and singing to your newborn serves to strengthen your bond and soothe them.
But let’s be real. During what Dr. Karp calls the 4th Trimester, you are both in survival mode so don’t be surprised if one or both of you falls asleep during story time. Also, a newborn’s eyesight really isn’t developed enough to focus on a book, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use it as time to cuddle and create a routine. Just don’t expect them to be very interested until the newborn fog has lifted.
I began reading to my oldest son as an infant, cherishing our time together. I was able to read whatever I wanted. It didn't matter if it was a sweet picture book or Pride and Prejudice (which I assure you it wasn't), he was content to sit in my lap and listen. I was in heaven, sharing my lifelong love of reading with my precious little baby. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t comprehend a single word.
According to How to Raise a Reader, “Research shows that the number of words an infant is exposed to has a direct effect on language development and literacy, whether they understand them immediately or not.”
Reading to Babies: A Hands-On Activity
The day came when my son was no longer content to be a passive participant in our reading ritual. He wanted to grab the book and turn the pages so aggressively that I feared for their safety. As much as I appreciated his newfound enthusiasm, I realized I would be limited to my small collection of board books for the foreseeable future.
Board books are perfect books for babies as they tend to be small, sturdy and age-appropriate to allow them to grow with your infant all the way through toddlerhood and survive (mostly) unharmed.
To be clear, you WANT your child to touch these books, turn the pages and even bang on them in excitement. By reading to your child they are learning that reading is fun and interactive. In the process they are developing gross motor skills and a positive association with books. You can really heighten the sensory experience by including interactive books that have textures to touch, buttons to push or flaps to open.
Reading to Babies: Creating a Book Culture
Don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t respond to your Academy Award-worthy performances of reading aloud at first. More than just reading to your baby, you are creating what Paul and Russo call a “book culture” where books are a part of daily life and predictable routines. In addition, “Having someone take the time to read to him and… ask for his attention, sets the stage for more formalized learning that will be part of his life as he grows.” Hence, my determination to begin with the end in mind.
For recommendations on what to look for when choosing baby books see my list of 10 best board books for babies with all the feels or 11 best classic board books for babies and toddlers.
See also: What Makes a Good Children's Book?