Reading in early childhood
Little Buddy doesn’t watch much TV other than an occasional DVD to keep him distracted when he gets too anxious, but I think we have already managed to make him love books more than TV. I have no illusions that this will always be the case, but right now if you turn on the TV and wave a book at him, he will grab for the book every time. This was a fairly simple process, and there are a few simple ways you could do this, too.
- Buy books before the baby is born. You simply won’t have the time or patience the first few months to look. Get a few classics before the baby arrives – Good Night Moon was the first book we got for Little Buddy (other than hand-me-downs from my childhood).
- Start reading to the baby in the womb. This is not for any reason other than to get used to doing it. I had almost zero experience reading children’s books. Once in a blue moon I read to a child, but it could not have been more than a dozen times in my whole life. But reading to your wife’s stomach a few times helps relax you and gets you used to the idea of it. There is no need to do this a lot, just a few times until you are comfortable with it. I wish I had done it a bit more than I did, but the few times I did were enough.
- Read to the baby when he is born. I read Little Buddy books as soon as he came home from the hospital. I read him books in his swing, then on a mat on the floor, then holding him in my lap as soon as he could sit up. People thought I was wasting my time, but he started focusing on the book as a source of happiness very, very early on, and as soon as he could crawl he would crawl to the books and bring it to Bubelah or to me.
- Buy a limited number of books. Only buy a dozen or so books, and learn them well. I can recite most of our “greatest hits” from memory. I have a set of standard sound effects to go with them. I think if I read a new book every night it would be difficult to have the same consistency, and very young kids love consistency. We read “The Little Bunny” hundreds of times, always in the same tone of voice, always with the same “effects” – and he still remembers all of them even now that we don’t read the book as much anymore.
- Read to him in more than one language if possible. I am fortunate that my wife is not a native English speaker, so we can have two sets of books. I am further fortunate that I speak her native language, Russian, and that she speaks English fluently. We try to stick to our native languages while reading, to ensure Little Buddy learns the correct pronounciation and accent, but we switch back and forth and in a sense I think that keeps him entertained, too. If you speak a foreign language and can read it – even slowly – try buying a few books in that language, you will be amazed how well children can pick up two sets of words. Little Buddy already clearly understands both languages.
- Make reading interactive. Don’t go for more than a page or two without asking a question or deviating from the text. Just as with adults, repetition can lead to inattention. Although I know I said babies love consistency above, they don’t love dull repetition.
- Above all, make reading fun. I seldom read any book with Little Buddy without a constant stream of sound effects, tickles, faces and even some running around or lifting him up in the air. Different books have different purposes. Hand Hand Fingers Thumb is exciting. The Runaway Bunny is calming. Both are fun – they just have different cadences, tones and actions associated with them. One of the worst things to do is make reading dry and dull. An infant or toddler probably won’t understand the great majority of the words in a story, but I always show Little Buddy my arms outstretched pretending to exercise when we see that word in one of his books. Now, when he hears that word, he stretches, too. The same goes for grasshoppers, monkeys, balloons, fire trucks and so on.
All of this has paid off handsomely for us. Although we didn’t follow all of these tips all the time, it is a great feeling as a parent to watch your child walk right past a turned-on TV to grab a book and either read it himself or toddle over to you and put it in your hands, then plop down on the carpet and wait expectantly for you to read it.