Young Babies: It’s About Attitude
For newborns, reading primarily fosters relationships with caregivers and creates positive attitudes toward books. In the first half of the first year, adults are laying a foundation for the baby to associate reading with happiness and connection.
"Newborns really are not so much interested in the books as they're interested in the comfort and closeness of being held and the rhythm and the intonation of their adults' voices," says Dr. Ann Barbour, PhD, professor of early childhood education at California State University, Los Angeles. To promote this closeness, parents can read lullabies or nursery rhymes while holding babies in a comfortable position, Dr. Barbour says.
Newborns tend to enjoy looking at pictures of the human face, according to Drs. Stephen Herb and Sara Willoughby-Herb, PhDs, in their book Using Children's Books in Preschool Settings. At this age, parents can "choose a few books that baby likes and reread them regularly."
In addition, young infants "can really see vivid colors" and may like books that reflect that preference, says Sherry Wong, director of product strategy at the Talaris Research Institute in Seattle. The institute communicates research on early childhood development to parents.
Developmentally, hearing spoken language at an early age "promotes the development of speech centers in the brain," allowing a baby to discriminate among and recognize different sounds, says Dr. Bob Stevens, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology at Penn State University. This "phonemic awareness" can help kids better understand a wide range of vocabulary words as they grow older.
However, children cannot really understand the content of books until they comprehend oral language, according to Dr. Margaret Moustafa, PhD, professor of education at California State University, Los Angeles. "Until children have enough spoken language to understand books read to them," explains Dr. Moustafa, "all they can learn from being read to is activities associated with reading, such as how one turns pages."