You’ve likely heard that it’s a good idea to start reading to your baby starting right when they’re born. But why? Does it really have that big of an impact?
The answer to that question is simple: Yes, it does. Studies show that kids who are ready to learn in kindergarten do better in school as they grow.
One easy, effective and enjoyable way to help prepare kids for learning in kindergarten is to start reading with them when they’re infants. My mantra to parents is, “You are your child’s first teacher.” Parents can begin the learning process by opening up a book and reading to their child when they are newborns.
WHY START SO YOUNG?
There are many reasons to start fostering a love of books right from the moment your child joins your family.
Sharing books with young children promotes skills that last a lifetime, including speech development, language development and preliteracy skills.
When young children are read to, they develop vocabulary, learn repetition, and recognize rhythm in the language. That not only boosts brain activity, but also gets them ready for reading on their own. While you may not even realize it, reading as little as 15 minutes a day with your child is helping prepare them to be ready to learn when they start kindergarten.
Reading with your children strengthens bonds between you and them.
It’s soothing for babies to hear your voice and be close to you. Reading together creates that close connection naturally. As you read, you’re communicating with your baby—pointing to pictures, expressing emotions over scenes in the book, changing your tone of voice based on what’s happening in the story. Even when your infant is too young to engage with the book, you are connecting with them emotionally and helping to build a strong relationship with them.
Reading to infants starts a pattern that you can continue throughout the elementary school years.
When you start reading from birth, it becomes a habit that children expect as part of their daily routine. This makes reading less of a chore when kids start school, because they are already used to daily reading.
Much emphasis is placed on kindergarten readiness because it can help predict how a child will do later in school. Kindergarten readiness is predictive of 3rd grade reading ability, which is predictive of graduation. When kids come to kindergarten recognizing words and numbers and colors, it gives them a jump start that impacts them for years to come.
Some of my colleagues and I recently published a study that demonstrated that children in a reading program improved readiness for kindergarten by 15% over the three years of the study. The results showed that children who are read to and have participated in two reading programs (Reach Out and Read—a program available to certain families through their pediatrician—and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, described below) have better kindergarten readiness scores than children who have not had access to the books and guidance provided by the programs.
FREE BOOKS FOR KIDS MAILED TO YOUR HOME
Dolly Parton started a program called Imagination Library as a tribute to her father, who was unable to read. She wanted to inspire kids to love to read. Children enrolled in this program receive a new, free book in the mail each month for five years, starting at birth.
Thanks to efforts by Cincinnati Children’s, support from Every Child Capital Venture Philanthropy Fund, several corporate and community sponsors, and Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine, all children ages 5 and younger in the state of Ohio are eligible to sign up for Imagination Library regardless of where you live or your income level. This is an easy way to find books to read with your little one and start that love of reading early.
As the one who manages the Cincinnati Imagination Library through Cincinnati Children’s, I highly encourage anyone with a child between the ages of birth and 5 to enroll in this program. I used it with my own daughter and it was so fun to see her get excited each month when her new books arrived. When your child finds a book they fall in love with, it’s magical.
Listen to this episode of the Cincinnati Children’s Young and Healthy podcast to hear one of our experts talk more about the benefits of reading with young children and offer children’s book recommendations.