Incredibly your tiny baby is born with a lifetime supply of brain cells in place and while a few brain structures will add new nerve cells during early childhood (and a single region adds new cells throughout our lives) basically the raw material of our brains is already there at birth.
It really isn't surprising then that numerous studies have proven that the more experience a baby has of being read or spoken early on in life, the easier it is for her to learn to speak and read later on.
Literacy really does begin at birth, so every effort you make with reading to your baby or toddler, talking to her, singing or reciting nursery rhymes, builds all the skills she needs to grasp language, reading and writing.
We can stimulate a child's senses (their sight, hearing, smell and touch) by the way we interact with them and as most of a baby's brain growth will have occurred by the time they are three years old, it really never is too soon to start!
Experts recommend reading to a newborn from birth. They are too tiny to understand a story of course, but they will benefit from the intonation and inflection in the adult's voice. They find it soothing, comforting, and although they don't realise it, they are laying the building bricks for a good vocabulary and stimulating their motor and auditory skills.
As mentioned a baby is born with a lifetime supply of brain cells and from day one these cells begin to die. By the time we are fully grown adults we have half of the brain cells we did at birth!
In a baby's brain pathways (synapses) are formed to allow information to travel around in the brain. It's a kind of brain wiring.
These synapses are encouraged by experiences and reading, especially the repetition found in most early baby books and in nursery rhymes, add more layers, and develop more complex construction of these pathways. A staggering 90% of this brain wiring is complete by the age of three.
While we may not see a very young baby's reaction to a story, toddlers clearly demonstrate how much they get out of a story time session.
As well as helping their brain development they enjoy the feeling of love and security of having an adult speaking and looking at them face to face. They enjoy the fun stories, the relaxed familiar stories and the ones which give them the chance to join in, chant, sing, or perform actions.
Some tips for reading to your little ones:
- Keep it short. Children have short attention spans, so a 10 minute story twice a day is adequate.
- Read something you enjoy. Especially during the very early days. Then when baby is more alert use baby-friendly board or fabric books so baby can grab and "read" with you.
- Choose picture books for babies from four months old so they can familiarise themselves with the images.
- Get used to repetition. Babies and toddlers love hearing the same story over and over again so they learn when to laugh and when to anticipate something is going to happen.
- Introduce pop-up books. By six to nine months, your baby will enjoy these and they will help develop your child's fine motor skills.
- Introduce paper books, from about one-year your child your little one should be able to look through a picture book without chewing, ripping or spoiling it.
As well as buying or borrowing library books featuring a toddler's favourite characters, try to have a selection of books which have drawings of other children doing familiar things (sleeping, eating and playing) books about saying hello and good-bye, please and thank you, books with not too many words, books with easy to remember rhymes or phrases, books about numbers, the alphabet, shapes or animals.