Happy Father’s Day! Here’s wishing all dads have a great day after weathering the pandemic. If you’re a new dad or grandpa (or mom or grandma), getting in the habit of reading and conversing with your child from the start, you are helping them develop critical language skills. Here’s to you!
When babies are first born, they don’t appear to think or distinguish themselves from the world, according to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, but babies are awash with reflexes (White, 1988 p.10). They look at sources of light and gaze at human faces (especially eyes). These may be primitive and uncoordinated behaviors, but they are the building blocks of intelligence.
Reading to a newborn can be quieting for both baby and mom and dad. Babies will look at the pictures and hear your soothing words. Board books and rhyming books will do nicely.
In simple tests of preference, infants prefer faces. For example, in the Development of infants’ attention to faces during the first year, we know that between 3 and 9 months, babies like looking at pictures of faces; they liked the Charlie Brown Peanuts characters! Many board books with pictures have capitalized on this, and it is easy to find books with baby faces.
It’s generally understood that reading out loud and talking to children will help language development. So dads who converse with their children starting when they’re infants and read to them, who answer their questions, listen to what children say, are building language skills that will transfer to reading. Books provide a great medium to do this.
When parents engage, listen, and ask questions, children become more interested in language and become familiar with words they like to hear. It’s a pleasurable experience.
Learning to read starts by listening to words being said, and when it’s connected to pictures, it is visually stimulating and creates curiosity.
Dads reading with toddlers is a great joy for both the toddler and adult. Toddlers have better-developed personalities and giggle when they see something funny. Dad’s can be dramatic and silly, and toddlers associate joy with books.
British Psychologist Penelope Leach, whose child development books have been a mainstay for parents over the years, recommends big, detailed illustrations of familiar scenes to hold the toddlers’ attention. In addition, she advises helping toddlers make friends with books (p. 260). Now’s the time, she recommends, to get children a library card so they can check out books they choose.
Rhyming and singing take center stage. Some books will become old favorites. It’s easy to search on Google for many great rhyming books. A few favorites are:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Some parents enthusiastically try to move children straight into chapter books, but children still delight in looking at picture books, and they may demand the same book read repeatedly.
As one who endured many readings of Pigs at Christmas, throughout the summer, take it from me, if children are learning words they love, even and especially if they’re silly, and read over and over, it works! It is a good book, by the way.
Elementary School and Beyond
Children still love to be read to, and while many picture books and chapter books will capture their eyes, dads can read books with fewer pictures. A move to novels involves important listening skills, and the stories will drive children to those books.
Children With Disabilities
Jim Trelease is a parent who knows a lot about reading. In his well-researched The Read-Aloud Handbook, he describes the importance of early reading to babies with disabilities (p. 25-26). He tells about Cusla and Her Books, which is another book by Dorothy Butler.
Cusla was a child with serious disabilities not expected to make much academic progress. However, her parents realized she responded to being read to, so they read 14 books every day. By age five, Cusla had average intelligence and was socially well-adjusted.
Another family, hearing about Cusla’s progress, followed Trelease’s advice with their child, Jennifer, who had disabilities along with Down syndrome. They read 10 books to her every day, and Jennifer became the best reader in first grade!
One 2019 study found that reading books to toddlers with hearing loss can be effective. Parents were helped to see the importance of book selection skills, parent-child eye contact, and turn-taking. Parents faced their child in their high chair or propped up with an open picture book while maintaining eye contact.
Enjoy the day and read to your babies and beyond!
Here are helpful hints from the study, Reading to Babies: Exploring the Beginnings of Literacy found in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.
- Create a routine. Read books at naptime, bath time, mealtime, and bedtime.
- Take books wherever you go. Always have a book ready to fill in the time. Treat a child to a Golden Book at the grocery store.
- Read fiction and nonfiction. Children like make-believe, and they are curious about the world around them.
- Emphasize cultural background. Use books in the child’s native language and cultural background.
- Pick books with good illustrations. Children respond to pictures and become interested in words through illustrations.
- Point to pictures while speaking. Encourage children to speak about what they see.
- Repeat words. Ask children to repeat words they hear read to them.
- Ask questions. Use pictures to ask questions about the story, but don’t interrupt the flow of the story.
- Follow a child’s cues. For example, if a child doesn’t like a book, try a different one.
- Read with inflection. Use an animated voice while reading with expression, intonation, joy, and excitement.
- Repeat readings. Children who want one book read repeatedly do well with vocabulary.
- Make personal connections. Children like books that reflect something about them.
- Read different genres. Include books on various subjects like poetry, biographies, fairy tales, and informational books.
- Help children make their own books. Children enjoy dictating to you and seeing their own stories in print and rereading those stories.
- Read your favorites. Enjoy sharing your favorite children’s stories with your children.
Enjoy the day and happy reading!
White, B. L. (1988). Educating the Infant and Toddler. United States: D. C. Heath and Company.
Leach, P. (1988). Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five. New York, NY: Knopf.
Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook. New York, NY: Penguin Books.