Before we start this article, let’s get one thing clear: when you first start to read to your baby, you will probably feel like a tit. You’re going to be doing silly voices and making noises and singing song. It will make you feel ridiculous for a bit, but what the hell. At some point over the next couple of years you’re going to find yourself prancing around the village hall playgroup singing songs about being a dingle dangle scarecrow and wondering how you ever got laid, so just give it up now.
Now we’ve got that straight, why is doing something that makes you feel like such a complete idiot so important for your baby?
For a start it’s great for bonding. Snuggling on the sofa to read is a lovely way to spend the 30 minutes per day during which they’re not sleeping or screaming the place down. Even your tiny newborn will enjoy the sensation of being held close and hearing your voice, plus you get extra cuddles so everyone’s a winner.
It’s also excellent for your baby’s speaking and listening skills. Research has shown that babies who are talked to and read to regularly develop a large vocabulary and good listening skills, both of which will help when they go to school.
Now I’ve convinced you that reading is going to put your baby on the path to child genius territory, how do you actually go about it? Here are some tips to start you off:
You can read anything. Young babies have no idea what you’re talking about, so anything goes, even a magazine article. Just vary your tone and give them eye contact. Any positive interaction is good at this age (and so far, no comedy voices required. Bonus).
Look for high contrast pictures. Your young baby’s sight is still developing so black and white or bright, high contrast pictures will capture their attention. Books with texture are great too as they’re interactive. The aforementioned textures will be smeared with mashed banana within weeks. This adds a pleasing aroma to enhance the sensory experience.
Stick to board books at first. Babies eat books. Yes, even the ones who take offence at having a breast or bottle shoved in their face and turn their noses up at apple puree. For some reason, books taste like the nectar of the gods to babies, so choose durable ones or they’ll be reduced to soggy shreds in no time.
Make the book exciting. Vary the tone of your voice, pause for dramatic effect, accentuate rhyming words. Even when babies don’t understand what’s being said, they can start to gain understanding from these clues. This is the bit where you feel like a tit. We’re fine with that though. We left our dignity in the delivery suite.
Model how to read. Point to the text of the book, saying “These are the words. We read them to find out what happens in the story”, then point to the pictures: “These show us what’s happening.” Follow the text with your finger as you read. The chances are that this will do absolutely bugger all for your child’s reading ability until they’re 3 or 4, but it’s always nice to start early.
Ask questions. “Who’s that?” “What do you think is on the next page?” “What do you think will happen next?” If your child is too young to respond, answer yourself: “I think he’s going to fall down that hole, don’t you?” (“Oh look, he did fall down the hole. Clever Mummy. Have a wine.”)
Choose books that you like. Otherwise you’re going to end up reading the complete adventures of Thomas the Tank Engine 18 times a day for the next 4 years. Ask me how I know. (Spoiler: Thomas cocks everything up with alarming regularity, the little blue bellend).
Enjoy it. Don’t get stressed about it, just have fun. And remind yourself that not only are you boosting your child’s future literacy skills, you’re also teaching them to love books, thereby buying yourself hours of peace and quiet when they’re old enough to want to read to themselves. Priceless.