NEW BRAIN RESEARCH REVEALS THAT synapses, the connections between neurons, are twice as plentiful at 24 months as in adulthood. Reading to babies helps "wire in" those synapses, so that babies get an early intellectual boost. Early reading promotes early literacy.
Here's how to begin. Even before infants are talking, you can help them begin a lifelong love of reading. Snuggle comfortably with Baby on your lap. Share books with bright, colorful pictures. Choose those which will survive sessions with teething babies! Avoid spiral bindings, which teething babies could bite.
You'll find that babies a few months old stare hard at black-and-white circles or simple face illustrations. By eight to 12 months, they listen attentively as you chant nursery rhymes, especially when the poem corresponds to the picture. A homemade book filled with family photos can provide comfort to babies of all ages. Ask parents to provide one for their child and explain that children feel so secure as you slowly go through their album and talk about each precious person-or family pet.
Create your own books. Cut out pictures of objects familiar to babies-- a ball, family members, cookies, teddy bears-and slip each one into a plastic baggie to create pages. As you go through the book together, talk about and verbally label each picture: "See the kitty! Meow, meow. Soft kitty. Nice kitty." Encourage babies to point to ears, eyes, or feet.
Try making another book, this one with all animal pictures. As you share each page, talk about the animals and exaggerate their sounds. For instance, when you turn to the pig picture, you can ask: "What does the piggy say?" Then be sure to call out: "Oink! Oink!" This is a great book to share with several babies snuggled close by.
Modify picture books. Often the story line of a book is too complex for a young baby. So, simplify! Use your own words to describe the pictures. For instance, if you are reading Curious George, turn each page and exclaim:
"Look, a monkey!" "Another monkey!" "More monkeys!" Remember: The story is less important than the pleasure you share as Baby recognizes the monkey's curly tail and brown fur. As you read with slightly older babies, be creative and make up a simple story about a character or animal on a page: "Look at that pony. He's galloping and chasing around on the grass. He loves to munch on the grass. Yum, it's good! Mama horse and little pony are eating their lunch."
Be dramatic. Your vocal expressions definitely make picture book "reading" more fun. Try all kinds of tones-showing surprise, whispering, drawing out vowels ("baby bear was sooooo sleepy!")-to keep Baby's interest. When using a book to soothe Baby, be sure to look for those with repetitive rhythms and gentle words (such as Goodnight Moon; see "Great Books to Share," page 28) so your voice and the story can work together to lull babies to sleep.
AS YOU SHARE BOOKS WITH TODDLERS, they learn that pages are read from top to bottom and turned from left to right and that pictures and printed words are related to each other. Books are also great memory stretchers. As toddlers remember story lines, they begin to choose what they want to hear over and over. Listening to preferred choices again and again increases a toddler's sense of self and security. He really knows that special story! Give your toddlers several choices of books, and you'll learn just which ones they dote on!
Choose interactive books. Even when snuggled close for story time, some toddlers may have difficulty sitting still. Try to find books that encourage their participation by pushing moveable parts, uncovering a hiding teddy bear, making a clown pop up, or patting the bunny!
Help toddlers feet personally attached. Toddlers like to possess books. Look for ones with handles or large plastic rings that toddlers can clutch and carry around as precious possessions. In other words, hook your toddlers on books, literally and figuratively!
Find books about kindly characters. As you graduate to reading stories, be sure to share ones about characters being kind to one another. (A Pocket for Corduroy is a good example; see "Great Books to Share," page 28.)
Don't forget the mischief! Sam, who is grumpy about toilet learning, can be very appealing. (See Sam's Potty in "Great Books to Share," page 28.) Because Sam is still lovable and cherished by his family, this story provides a secure feeling for toddlers who sometimes have upsets or grumpy feelings too.
Convey your pleasure. As you settle down to read, let children know you enjoy books and reading together. After all, toddlers are great copycats. If you are involved in a simple story, toddlers will get swept into the tale. As you encourage them to help turn pages, toddlers become truly involved with books for pleasure, for learning, and for life!